Freeman Rail Trail finally a reality

By Andy Metzger/Staff Writer
The Chelmsford Independent
October 10, 2007

Chelmsford – After years of anticipation, local bikers, joggers and inline skaters have come one step closer to their own car-free thoroughfare, the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail.

Local politicians and representatives of MassHighway joined bike path advocates in Chelmsford Center for the official groundbreaking Tuesday afternoon.

The project should take two years to complete, according to Erik Abel, MassHighway spokesman.

“Isn’t it wonderful to be here today?” said Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail President Tom Michelman.

The autumn sun cast a long shadow on the crowd of about 60 people gathered in a parking lot behind the old Town Hall and next to the old railroad tracks.

At least one person had a bike helmet on and many others wore shirts with a map of the future trail on the back.

All of Chelmsford’s selectmen showed up to the event and so did Daphne Freeman, whose late husband first led the charge for the trail in the 1980s.

“It has been 22 years since my husband was so enthusiastic about the possibility of a bike path in Chelmsford,” said Freeman.

After the state representative died, Carol Cleven won his seat and in her first speech in office advocated for a bike path named in his honor.

Cleven’s legislation passed in 1987, and she expected the bike path to be built soon after.

“I thought it would happen right away,” Cleven said. “ I learned that legislation can pass, but it can not get implemented for a long time.”

Her bill got tied up and left without funding because the Legislature could not decide which department would be in charge of the trail. MassHighway is in charge of the project now.

The $4.2 million first phase will create 6.8 miles of trail running from Lowell, through Chelmsford and into Westford, according to a MassHighway press release.

The path will eventually wind its way through Carlisle, Acton, Concord and Sudbury on its way to Framingham, assuming Phases 2 and 3 receive funding.

State Rep. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, feels confident that his town will connect to the Freeman trail soon, even though it took 20 years to break ground on the first phase.

“For the first time we have an administration that realizes how important it is for the whole state,” said Eldridge.

In order to lessen the burden on towns the path will pass through, Eldridge filed legislation to give municipalities insurance in case construction uncovers toxic oil spills on the abandoned tracks.

“If there is oil residue found, they’ll be covered,” Eldridge said.

Though the ceremony took place in the center, work will begin at the Lowell line, where the path will pass under Route 3, said Mark Fedele, resident engineer for the project.

For about two and a half weeks the workers will put up fences to protect against erosion and then the overgrowth and dead branches will be cleared from the path, Fedele said.

By mid-November, the steel rails and railroad ties will start to be removed, said Fedele.

The old rails have a market value and Fedele said a company in New Hampshire might be interested in buying them.

Next summer, construction will begin on four bridges along the trails and paving will probably start next fall, Fedele said.

MassHighway Commissioner Luisa Paiewonsky urged workers to finish the project under budget and on time, because it has taken so long to get started.

“I feel like we’ve got something to prove now,” Paiewonsky said.

Local residents and business owners are already excited about the future bike path.

“With all the restaurants, it will be nice because people can go strolling after they eat,” said Cynthia McLain, a member of Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail.

McLain takes her 21-gear Trek hybrid out on the town’s roads now, but she looks forward to biking, running and walking on the trail, when it’s finished.

Keith Armstrong hopes his restaurant’s proximity to the trail will attract bikers and joggers like McLain.

“I think it’s great. It’s going to be good for small business,” said Armstrong, of The Traveling Gourmet. “The more foot traffic we get, the better.”
Staff Writer Andy Metzger can be reached at 978-371-5745 or at