Town discusses rail trail at hearing

By Carole LaMond/ Staff Writer
Sudbury Town Crier
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Town residents delivered a freight-load of ideas, comments and concerns to a contractor who will use that input to help guide an environmental and engineering assessment of a proposed project to convert a railroad right of way into a multi-use path.

The public meeting, hosted by Fay, Spofford & Thorndike, on June 15 was the kickoff-meeting for a study that will determine whether it is feasible to move forward with the project.

Fay, Spofford & Thorndike (FST), a Burlington firm who completed a similar assessment for Acton in 2004, was hired by the town to conduct an environmental and engineering assessment along the former Lowell Secondary Track right of way of the Old Colony Rail Road now owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The 4.4-mile section of the rail corridor in Sudbury would be part of a 22-mile recreational path called the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail (BFRT) which runs from Lowell through Chelmsford, Westford, Carlisle, Acton, Concord, Sudbury and Framingham.
The meeting was attended by about 70 people, many of them abutters opposed to the construction of a trail along the rail corridor that abuts their backyards.

“A trail is going to go right underneath my bedroom window. What would you do?” asked Pam Mauer, a North Road resident, of town officials.

The prospect of a trail also has ardent support among abutters to the abandoned rail line who envision a trail that would provide year-round recreation opportunities accessible from their doorstep, including walking and jogging, biking, inline skating and cross-country skiing.

Mara Huston, a Peakham Road resident whose property abuts the rail line, wholeheartedly supports a rail trail for recreational purposes and a means of transportation to athletic fields and schools, and for doing errands around town.

“The rail trail is a community issue, not an abutter issue,” said Huston. “We voted as a community to improve the fields at the high school. I’m not an abutter to the high school, and it will be years before my children use it, but I still voted for it.”

There are about 80 properties that abut the old railway line which saw its last freight train pass through in 1982. The proposed trail begins just north of Rte. 20 on Union Ave. and crosses seven town roads – Codjer Lane, Old Lancaster Road, Rte. 27, Morse Road, Haynes Road, Pantry Road and North Road – before it crosses the Concord town line at the Frost Farm conservation land.
“What you say tonight will be incorporated into the study because we are just getting started. What’s good about this meeting is that we’re going to get both sides,” said Jen Shemowat, FST project engineer. “The town isn’t committed to anything.”

Residents approved $25,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds for the assessment survey at the April 2005 Town Meeting.

Shemowat outlined the scope of the assessment which will study critical engineering and environmental issues. The report will examine design and construction options and list corresponding costs. During the summer Shemowat and John Hendrickson, project manager, will collect data, prepare maps and evaluate key design issues with the assistance of a wildlife and wetland consultant.

The RTCAC will hold a public information meeting on the survey results in September and a public meeting on the assessment report in November. FST will deliver a final report to the town in December.

If the report recommends proceeding with the project, a vote at Town Meeting would be necessary to allocate CPA funds for a 25-percent, or preliminary, design of the Sudbury trail. Design plans could include fencing and plantings to screen abutters’ property.

Concord and Acton have allocated funds for design of the trail and Chelmsford is ready to begin construction of its portion of the rail trail. Construction costs vary with the first phase budgeted at about $500,000 per mile. Acton and Concord had engineering estimates performed that show the average cost will run about $1 million per mile, due to major bridge work and road crossings. The assessment study will estimate construction costs for a Sudbury trail.
Federal and state funds will pay most of the construction cost of a trail, but the state requires the town to come up with 10 percent of the total construction cost. The town is responsible for all upfront costs, which typically consume about 10 percent of the project costs, and are in the form of an assessment study and three design phases. Grants and private fund-raising may offset the town’s cost.

Right for the town?
“This burden is going to be placed on the town of Sudbury and its residents and people from all over the state may come and use this trail,” said Nancy Wetherbee, an abutter to a northern section of the rail corridor. “Bedford and Lexington have a rail trail and I just think (RTCAC) should share information that’s available, positive and negative, about these towns’ experiences to help us make the appropriate decision for our town.”

Shemowat and Hendrickson predicted a multi-use trail on the Sudbury corridor as more rural than the busy Minuteman Bikeway which runs through Bedford, Lexington, Arlington and connects to the Alewife T station in Cambridge. According to Rails-to Trails Conservancy data on 1,359 U.S. rail trails, the Minuteman has the second highest use in the nation with an average of 2 million yearly users.

Despite its high-volume use, a real estate study, posted on the RTCAC town Web site, includes statistics that show homes along the Minuteman trail are not adversely affected by their location and in fact sell at above average rates.
“This is more of a family trail, more of a community park than a raceway,” said Hendrickson of the Sudbury trail location. “You don’t get guys in spandex, it’s more moms with baby carriages.”

At the open meeting, residents split into four groups for an opinion-sharing workshop with a group facilitator who posed five questions to generate discussion. Would residents use the proposed rail trail for transportation or recreation? What type of surface material would be appropriate for a trail, and where would residents access a trail? Finally, each respondent was asked if a rail trail would have a positive or a negative effect on Sudbury.

“It’s not black or white. Most people who voted one way can understand that there are things on the other side,” said Melanie Weaver, an abutter on Old Lancaster Road who voted the trail as a negative in her workshop group. “It certainly is another recreational facility for the town, but I’m not sure that kids would actually use it to go to school. I’m concerned that in some neighborhoods increases in people (using a trail) would be an issue. I’m also concerned with issues on wildlife and parking.”

Bernard Cabrera, a resident of Pantry Road, but not an abutter, echoed other residents when he said biking in town is dangerous, and that for his family of avid recreational bikers there are no places in town to bike safely.

“We’re surrounded by nature and it’s a real shame we’re not able to enjoy it. A bike trail would only be a positive thing for discovering and connecting to nature,” said Cabrera. “There is no doubt in my mind that it would be wonderful for Sudbury.”

Issues and Concerns
Privacy and security top the list of concerns about the effect of a rail trail. Maintenance costs and environmental concerns, particularly a trail’s effect on wildlife and vernal pools, are also issues that residents want addressed in a study. Other issues brought up in one workshop are a trail’s effect on property value and local taxes, location of parking areas and access, and the disturbance of Native American artifacts that may be buried in the trail area.
The town would be responsible for ongoing maintenance costs of a trail, but officials emphasized that the cost is impossible to determine until the design of a trail is established.

“We have been trying very hard to find out what the maintenance costs are,” said Dick Williamson, RTCAC co-chair. “Sudbury has 100 miles of roads and 200 miles of single lane. A rail trail is equivalent to adding one mile, but with no salting, no snow removal, no repair of potholes. The actual cost of rail trail maintenance is a tiny fraction for a town like Sudbury, and most DPW departments don’t even break it out.”

The idea of a multi-use trail along the old Framingham-Lowell rail line was originally proposed by Bruce Freeman, a former Massachusetts legislator from Chelmsford who served from 1969 until his death from cancer in 1986. The trail was named in his honor.

Comments about a rail trail can either be e-mailed to or mailed to William Place, Director of Public Works/Town Engineer, BFRT Comments, 275 Old Lancaster Road, Sudbury, MA 01776.