Rail Trail Conversion Advisory Committee
Here is a list of questions the Rail Trail Conversion Advisory Committee answers on a regular basis. We try to keep this as up to date as possible. If you can't find the answer to one of your questions, feel free to ask us. See the "Contact Information" section on our department home page for how to contact us.
Frequently Asked Questions
Rail Trail - (1) General
- 01 - What is a rail trail?
- It is an unused railroad right of way that has been converted into a multi-use recreational path and an off-road corridor for non-motorized transportation.
- 02 - Which old railroad in Sudbury is the focus of current attention?
- 03 - Why is the Town of Sudbury considering construction of a rail trail?
- 04 - What is the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail?
- It is a proposed multi-use recreational trail and alternative transportation corridor along the former Lowell Secondary railroad line. This 25-mile Lowell-to-Framingham rail line opened in 1871 and operated for over 100 years. The right of way passes through Lowell, Chelmsford, Westford, Carlisle, Acton, Concord, Sudbury and Framingham. The name “Bruce Freeman” was chosen for the northernmost seven miles of the trail, and towns further south have generally adopted the same name for their sections of the trail.
- 05 - Who was Bruce Freeman?
- The Bruce N. Freeman Memorial Rail Trail (BFRT) is named for a state representative from Chelmsford who had the vision of turning this rail line into a trail for non-motorized recreation and transportation. Just before his death, Bruce Freeman played a key role in pushing for the support and funding of the first phase of trail construction.
- 07 - What is the RTCAC?
- In September 2004, the Sudbury Selectmen established a Rail Trail Conversion Advisory Committee (RTCAC) to advise the Selectmen concerning the conversion of the unused north-south rail line into a rail trail. The committee is tasked to identify and address the many questions and concerns that residents of Sudbury may have about the project including conceptual design of the path. The committee will also work with their counterparts in other towns and with state officials. See the Mission Statement for the RTCAC at http://sudbury.ma.us/committees/railtrail
- 08 - Who are the members of the RTCAC?
- They are listed on the Town of Sudbury’s web site. Six members are from Town Commissions and Departments. The committee also includes at-large members who were selected by the Selectmen after a number of candidates interviewed for positions on the committee.
- 09 - What are Sudbury’s concerns about a rail trail?
- The Board of Selectmen has tasked the RTCAC to examine the following concerns: financial resources, environmental issues, impact on abutters, engineering, trail surfaces, safety, parking, maintenance and costs.
- 10 - What Town of Sudbury organizations are involved in investigating a rail trail?
- In addition to the Rail Trail Conversion Advisory Committee, various Town boards and commissions (e.g., Department of Public Works, Park and Recreation Commission, Conservation Commission, Planning Board, and more) are involved in the investigations either directly, working through the RTCAC, or both.
- 11 - What other organizations, not connected with Town government, are involved in planning for a rail trail?
- Two advocacy groups are trying to influence the process. One of these is the Sudbury Citizens for Responsible Land Stewardship that is hoping that the railroad right of way will remain as it exists today. The other is the Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail that is hoping to have a multi-use rail trail built to shared-use path standards.
- 12 - How will residents have input to the approval and design of the trail?
- One way is to talk to the members of the RTCAC and to town officials. RTCAC meetings are open to the public and the committee solicits community input. Leasing of the rail bed, funding of the design and of the construction will all have to go through town boards and town meeting. During the various design phases, there will be hearings to review and iterate designs. You are invited to attend all of the meetings and participate in those hearings. All meetings are posted on the Town’s web site.
- 13 - How can I be kept informed about the rail trail?
- Information concerning the rail trail (e.g., studies, FAQ, links to other sites) and the meetings of the RTCAC (e.g., schedule and minutes) is posted on the committee’s web site (http://www.town.sudbury.ma.us/committees/RailTrail).
Questions may be sent to the committee’s email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Let the committee know if you would like to be kept informed of news via email.
Rail Trail - (2) Physical Properties
- 01 - Who currently owns the rail bed?
- The former Framingham to Lowell Rail Line (the proposed Bruce Freeman Rail Trail) has two segments. The state of Massachusetts owns the rail bed north of the east-west crossing of the Mass. Central rail line just north of Route 20 in Sudbury. The Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation (EOT) manages this section of the former Framingham to Lowell rail line. The railroad company CSX owns the rail bed south of the crossing.
- 02 - How long is the rail bed in Sudbury?
- The state-owned rail bed is 4.6 miles. The CSX-owned rail bed is 1.3 miles.
- 03 - Is it feasible to construct a rail trail on the old rail bed?
- A feasibility study of the Sudbury to Lowell rail trail was done in 1987 by a state agency and the study said that a rail trail is feasible. The same state agency released a feasibility study of CSX-owned rail bed in October 2006. The study said that a rail trail is also feasible on this section.
- 04 - What is the width of the railroad right of way?
- For most of its length, the right of way is 66 feet wide centered on the tracks. Just north of Route 20, the right of way narrows to 50 feet. A title review and survey would determine the precise location of the boundaries of the rail bed. The flat section of the rail bed where the ties and rails are located is a minimum of about 8 feet wide, the length of the ties.
- 05 - What kind of surface will be on the trail?
- 06 - Will the trail be plowed in the winter?
- Probably not. An unplowed trail would be available for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
- 07 - Has construction started on the rail trail south of Route 20?
- No. CSX has removed the rails and ties from the Mass. Central crossing south to Route 9. With the recent rise in scrap metal prices, the rails have become valuable. Removal of the rails and ties that has occurred is not related to any rail-trail construction plans.
- 8 - What is the status of the informal walking path that currently exists along some section of the rail bed?
- Such use of the rail bed is illegal, but usually not enforced. Legal use of the rail bed would only occur if a lease were signed with EOT.
Rail Trail - (3) Development Process and Costs
- 01 - What are the usual steps in the process of building a rail trail?
- A railroad bed is no longer in active use and the potential for a rail trail is identified.
- A feasibility study done by the state.
- A series of local actions to approve the exploration of the possibility of a rail trail.
- A preliminary engineering study to identify critical aspects of the trail and estimate costs.
- Obtaining rights to the rail bed through purchase or lease.
- Determining the form, function, and funding of the trail
- Designing and permitting the trail.
- Bidding and construction.
- 02 - How much would designing and constructing a rail trail in Sudbury cost?
- 03 - If the rail trail were partially funded from the federal transportation act, what fraction of the costs would be borne by Sudbury?
- 04 - Where would dollars for the Town’s portion of the rail trail come from?
- The Town of Sudbury may choose to pay for its fraction of the costs directly through a property-tax levy via an article at Town meeting. Alternatively, the Town’s fraction may come from CPA funds. Any use of CPA funds must be recommended by the Community Preservation Committee and approved at Town meeting.
- 05 - How much money has the Town of Sudbury spent in studying the rail trail?
- 06 - How can we justify spending money on a rail trail with the continuing pressure on the Town’s finances?
The town has the opportunity to consider building a public amenity along a public right of way. It may become part of a regional trail connecting Lowell and Framingham if other towns along the right of way proceed. The Town has indicated in the 2001 Sudbury Master Plan that trails are both desirable and consistent with Town values. If the Town approves, the Town's portion of design and construction expenses could be funded by the Community Preservation Act, which would require no change in the property tax rate.
- 07 - What are Sudbury’s options for funding the design and construction of a rail trail?
- 08 - How much control would the Town of Sudbury have over the design and construction process?
- 09 - Who makes the decisions on how the rail trail is designed, financed and constructed?
- No one organization has the final authority. For the trail to go ahead, positive decisions will be required by Sudbury Town Boards and Commissions, Sudbury Town Meeting and the state Executive Office of Transportation EOT. If a portion of the funding comes from outside of Sudbury, the approval of a number of state and federal organizations will be required.
- 10 - What must be done if trail conversion is done with state and federal funds?
- 11 - What if the trail conversion is done entirely with Sudbury funds?
- The Town would need to gain access to the rail bed through purchase (as with the CSXT right of way) or lease. A lease from EOT may constrain the type of rail trail that is built. If the Town funds the entire project, all decisions would be made locally.
- 12 - What are the land acquisition costs for the railroad right of way?
The state EOTPW will lease the rail bed to the Town of Sudbury at no cost. The acquisition cost to Sudbury for the CSXT rail bed authorized at 2008 Town Meeting is $420,000.
- 13 - What agreements with the Executive Office of Transportation EOT would be required to convert the state-owned section to a rail trail?
- 14 - Do the rails have any value?
The rails have a salvage value. CSXT has removed the rails and ties in its section of the trail. If EOTPW agrees to lease the rail bed to Sudbury, EOTPW may allow the Town to remove the rails and sell them. This may yield a net income to the Town depending on the value of the rails and the costs of removal of the rails and ties. Alternatively, the rails may be retained by EOTPW for its own use.
- 15 - Who would pay for the costs of a future major trail improvement, especially resurfacing?
- The Town of Sudbury would be responsible for future improvements. Money may be requested from the Commonwealth to cover the costs.
- 16 - What would it cost to maintain a rail trail?
Projections might be made on the basis of the experience in other communities. However, it is difficult to get firm numbers, especially since rail trail maintenance is usually lumped with other public works costs.
- 17 - Who would pay for the maintenance of the trail?
- The Town of Sudbury will pay the costs for maintenance. The usual lease agreement includes the assumption of maintenance costs by the local communities. The RTCAC will estimate the maintenance costs by talking with Sudbury’s DPW and by examining costs incurred for other existing rail trails. Cost of maintenance will depend on the choice of trail surface. Maintenance costs can be reduced by volunteer labor or by private donations. However, the Town remains the responsible entity.
- 18 - Who would pay for policing of the rail trail?
The lease agreements would oblige the Town to be responsible for policing. The Town is generally responsible for policing any property within the Town of Sudbury.
- 19 - With the backlog of needed road and bridge repairs, how can the state consider spending state and federal funds on a rail trail?
- 20 - What is the Massachusetts Statewide Bicycle Transportation Plan?
This 25 year bicycle plan from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation, made in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, (the principle funding source for bike paths) has the "primary purpose to develop a prioritized plan of on-and off-road bicycling improvements in order to implement a statewide bicycling network." The Plan encompasses 740 miles of primary and secondary bicycle routes which make up 7 Bay State Greenway Corridors. The first 10 years of the plan are dedicated to bike plans either currently advertised or funded.
- 21 - Is the Bruce Freeman Rail trail mentioned in the Plan?
Yes, Phase 1 is listed as funded and advertised for construction. Additional phases are proposed.
- 22 - Is the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail Sudbury section described as a Primary Route in the Plan?
No. Appendix 6 of the Statewide Plan describes the Primary Routes of the 7 corridors in detail. The Bruce Freeman Rail Trail through West Concord, Sudbury and Framingham is not described as either a Primary or Long Term Change to a Primary Route.† Only the section currently under construction through Chelmsford, Westford and Carlisle is denoted as a Primary Route that continues into Acton and then travels through Concord Center into Arlington with the eventual terminus being in Boston.
- 23 - Is the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail Sudbury section described as a Secondary Route in the Plan?
No. Appendix 7 of the Plan describes the Secondary Routes of the 7 Corridors. The Bruce Freeman Rail Trail through West Concord, Sudbury and Framingham is not included as a Secondary Route.
Rail Trail - (4) Environment
- 01 - How will environmental damage be avoided?
- 02 - What happens if contamination is found on the old rail bed?
- 03 - What will be the impact of the rail trail on the Town of Sudbury’s wells?
- Several town wells are located south of Route 20 and a short distance east of the rail bed. The RTCAC and other town commissions will carefully examine the potential effects of rail trail construction on these wells.
- 04 - What will happen to the old ties?
- Because ties were treated with creosote, they would have to be disposed of through special arrangements. Any residual contamination of the rail bed due to the creosote would be dealt with as part of the approval, design and construction process.
- 05 - Will the Town of Sudbury’s wetlands bylaw apply to the rail trail?
- If the Town decides to convert the rail bed into a rail trail, it is likely that the Town would play the lead role in designing the trail and applying for construction funds. In such a scenario, this would be a Sudbury-led project and all Town bylaws would apply, including wetlands bylaw, even if the Massachusetts Highway Department manages the construction. If the Massachusetts Highway Department were to be the applicant to the Sudbury Conservation Commission for rail-trail permitting, only the lesser standard imposed by state law would apply. However, the ability of MassHighway to use a lesser standard is being questioned and legally researched.
- 06 - How much clearing would be required to construct the trail?
- 07 - How will disruption to wildlife along the trail be minimized?
- During construction, there would be minimal, if any, filling of wetlands. Sediment barriers would be employed. If the trail were unlighted, disruption of nighttime wildlife use would be minimal. Any fencing must allow wildlife passage. Where appropriate, wildlife passages under the trail may be used. The effects of increased human presence are unknown.
Rail Trail - (5) Other Towns
- 01 - What are the proposed phases of trail construction along the entire Lowell-Framingham right of way?
- 02 - What is the status of the rail trail studies in the towns along the proposed trail?
- The Central Transportation Planning Staff (CTPS) of the Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization has completed three feasibility studies for the trail. Combined Phases I and II were studied in 1987. An update to this study covering Concord and Sudbury was done in 2003. In October 2006, CTPS completed a study of Phase III. The conclusion of all of the studies is that a rail trail is feasible. Preliminary Environmental and Engineering Assessments of the proposed Bruce Freeman rail trail have been completed for Acton, Concord, and the Phase II right of way in Sudbury.
- 03 - What will Phase I look like?
- The portion of the Bruce Freeman Trail in Lowell, Chelmsford and Westford (Phase I) will have a 10-foot-wide paved surface. Along several sections, fencing will be erected at the request of the homeowners.
- 04 - When will Phase II be completed?
Rail Trail - (6) Safety & Quality of Life
- 01 - How can the effects of a rail trail in Sudbury be estimated?
- The experience with existing rail trails provides valuable information. This information can be obtained by visiting nearby rail trails and by reading studies of existing rail trails.
- 02 - What kinds of rail-trail studies exist?
- Advocacy groups that either support or oppose the construction of rail trails publish extensively. However, because these groups take advocacy positions, they may not be as reliable or unbiased as studies done by academics or under the auspices of government agencies. Many studies and additional information are on the RTCAC website and in the Goodnow library. Many studies are available via the web. Search on “rail trail studies”, in quotes.
- 03 - What rail trails are near Sudbury?
- 04 - How would the security of abutters and of trail users be maintained?
- It is likely that the Sudbury Police Department would patrol the trail. A rail trail built to shared-use-path standards would accommodate patrol cars and emergency vehicles. Users with cell phones have become a key part of enhancing security along other rail trails. Appropriate fencing or shrubbery is usually included in the construction costs for a rail trail. Shared-use-path standards dictate fencing alongside the trail where there are sharp drop offs.
- 05 - Would motorized vehicles, especially motorcycles and snowmobiles, be allowed on the trail?
- The only motorized vehicles allowed on the trail would be emergency vehicles, maintenance vehicles and motorized wheel chairs. Other motorized vehicles would not be allowed. The Town may need to pass an ordinance to enforce this prohibition. Bollards or gates at the intersection of the trail with roads will also provide a physical deterrent to motorized vehicles on the trail.
- 06 - Would there be a curfew for the trail?
- No decision concerning a curfew has been made. Existing sentiment appears to lean toward no nighttime use of a trail.
- 07 - What is the Town’s liability for accidents occurring on the trail?
- The Town would have the same liability as that for the existing conservation and recreation areas. By statute, this liability is very limited.
- 08 - How will the safety of trail users and motorists be maintained where the trail intersects a roadway?
Rail Trail - (7) Uses
- 01 - Who will use the rail trail?
- Cyclists would probably be one of the largest groups of users. However, a rail trail is a community path that, if appropriately designed, can accommodate many kinds of users including walkers, runners, and families with strollers. In many communities, walkers are the largest users of rail trails. In the winter, cross-country skiers may use the trails. Well-trained cyclists who log lots of miles at high speeds are unlikely to use the rail trail. Most such cyclists prefer to use the roads. The cycling users of the rail trails are more likely to be families with children.
- 02 - Would the trail be used for “transportation” in addition to “recreation”?
- In Sudbury, the trail would provide access to
- Three Town conservation areas
- Three town recreation areas abutting the trail.
- A fourth recreation area abutting the trail planned for the Mahoney Farm property south of Route 20.
- Nixon school and the high school.
- Shopping areas
- West Concord commuter train station
Several engineering and property issues need to be resolved before an exit near the crossing of the Mass. Central line can be established without using the CSX-owned right of way. If the CSX-owned section were converted into a rail trail, it would cross Route 20 at a spot convenient to the shopping areas.
- 03 - Will many users come from out of town?
- We don’t know how many people will use the trail and how many will drive to the trail from out of town. We will work with state agencies to get some estimates. Because of its route, we don’t expect many commuters to use the trail except for access to the West Concord railroad station.
- 04 - Will equestrians be allowed to use the trail?
- Many rail trails have accommodated both equestrians and other users such as walkers and cyclists by constructing a separate dirt path alongside the prepared trail. In Sudbury, some sections are on a raised rail bed through wetlands, so in those sections, there isn’t room for a second parallel path unless the wetlands are filled. This is highly unlikely. Because of maintenance difficulties, horses would probably not be allowed on a non-paved path. A paved path would not be very attractive to equestrians.
- 05 - Where will users park?
- Many residents of Sudbury and nearby towns would travel to the trail by bicycle. Parking for others has been addressed in the Engineering and Environmental Assessment and would be further addressed in the design phases. Existing parking areas that could serve the rail trail include those at recreation areas, conservation areas and schools. Davis Field and Parmenter (Ti-Sales) Field abut the rail bed. Even though Featherland Park abuts the rail trail, parking there is very limited due to the heavy use of the parking areas for sports. It may be possible to arrange for parking at the Nixon school, especially on weekends. Also, some of the businesses near Route 20 might welcome parking by rail trail users.
- 06 - Will there be restroom facilities on the trail?
- Restrooms are available at some of the Town recreation areas that abut the trail. If found to be desirable, portable facilities can be provided at some spots as is done along the Nashua River Rail Trail.
- 07 - Will Sudbury’s rail trail become heavily used like the Minuteman Bikeway in Cambridge, Arlington, Lexington and Bedford?
- The Minuteman Bikeway has become a very popular and heavily used rail trail. It runs through a heavily populated area and provides a direct route in and out of the center city. The usage of the rail trail in Sudbury will probably be less because our area is less densely populated and farther separated from dense urban areas. The trail will likely have some use as a commuting route, but the destinations along the trail are fewer than for the Minuteman Trail. We do anticipate that the trail will provide a route to bicycle or walk from many homes to the shopping and recreational areas. The trail will provide a means for getting to the railroad commuter station in West Concord.