Townsend Times


Rail trail committee is ready with report, favors 2.4 mile stretch
By Diane C. Beaudoin

Friday, April 08, 2005 - 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 committee.

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 said.

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.