Rail trail committee is
ready with report, favors 2.4 mile stretch
Friday, April 08, 2022
- TOWNSEND -- A committee formed in 2002 to do a feasibility study on Townsend's
need for a rail trail has completed its task and will report to selectmen after
the election later this month, according to William Rideout, a member of the
The Rail Trail project
transforms abandoned and unused railroad tracks into walking and hiking paths,
which in many cases connect cities and towns.
The rail lines are owned by
the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA). For rail trail projects, the
unused tracks are sold to towns for $1.
The study states that the
cost to turn the rail lines into hiking and walking paths comes to $40,000 per
mile for a bare-earth surface, and up to $300,000 for an asphalt surface.
Since the 1980s, congress
has included a transportation enhancements section in its transportation funding
bills. If the bill passes as currently written, the federal government would
cover 80 percent of the costs of a rail trail, the state would fund 20 percent.
No local funding for construction is expected to be required. However, the
source of funding would not cover trail maintenance.
The proposal the group will
present to the selectmen consists of converting 2.4 miles of abandoned rails in
Townsend, from the Harbor Village shopping center and ending at Depot Street
into walking trail. The path would follow the Squannacook River and allow
walkers a safe place to enjoy the scenery.
In the report filed by the
committee, they note the fundamental change to the original proposal of
converting 9.4 miles to a conversion of 2.4 miles. The report states, "The
original trail covered 9.4 miles from Hollingsworth and Vose in Groton to the
Townsend/Mason line, of which approximately 6.8 miles is in Townsend. Based on
considerations detailed in this report, we now recommend the trail to extend
from the Townsend/Groton line (Harbor Village) to Depot Road, a distance of
about 2.5 miles."
The report also states a
follow-on stage could be contemplated later to continue the trail from Depot
Road, across the two railroad trestles, to Old Turnpike Road, an additional
distance of about 2.4 miles.
Rideout said during the
feasibility study, "we spoke to several abutters, and found mixed feelings
of having a rail trail. However, we also found that once we spoke to people in
person and addressed their concerns, they were more in favor of it," he
The report states that the
committee would be more in favor of moving the trail back 20 feet south of the
rail bed from 86 to 112 Main Street to reduce privacy concerns made by residents
in that particular area. "We are very sympathetic to the abutters that have
those privacy issues," Rideout said.
Their plan also includes
putting a parking area behind Harbor Village adjacent to Central Plaza before
the trail is built. An easement would be required to access this area by car
from the shopping center. The issue has been discussed with Maureen Gilman of
Sentry Management, the corporation that manages Harbor Village mall.
The report is asking the
selectmen to request a draft lease from the MBTA and move to open negotiations.
This would allow the committee to begin the process of researching funding for
design, construction, and maintenance costs.
Rideout said the committee
was prepared to address the selectmen at an earlier date. "However,
Chairman Paul Concemi said it would be better to wait until after the election
when a new member would be seated on the board," Rideout said.
A rail trail project has
been completed that stretches from Ayer, through Groton and Pepperell, and ends
in Dunstable. During fair to good weather, the trail experiences significant
use. The Ayer portion begins downtown, travels through Groton and along the
Nashua River, and passes through Pepperell's town center on into Dunstable. In
Pepperell, an ice cream shop, hot dog stand, and bike shop have blossomed at the
trail's edge. The downtown area, previously quiet on weekends, is now abustle
with activity as a result of the rail trail.