What is the Mass Central Rail Trail? Once a 104-mile railroad line from Northampton to Boston, now the corridor is being restored as a rail trail--a path for bicyclists, walkers, runners, baby strollers and young cyclists with training wheels, wheel chair users, cross country skiers, equestrians and nature enthusiasts.
What was the line's claim to fame? The Mass Central was the route of the commuter train that brought Governor Calvin Coolidge (later President Coolidge) to the State House every day from his home in Northampton. How did the tunnel in Clinton come about? When the development of the Wachusett Reservoir began to take shape, the railroad was informed that their route was going to be underwater. They then developed a new route which took the railroad corridor to the north side of what would be come the Wachusett Reservoir and then coming across the valley by way of a 135 foot high spindly trestle--and then directly into the 1,000 foot tunnel. [click here to go some pictures of the tunnel. Then and now.]
What about Weston? In 1997 the town of Weston voted against participation in the 'Wayside Rail Trail' one of the projects on the Mass Central corridor. The Mass Central Rail Trail's various groups respect this decision. The Wayside and larger Mass Central Rail Trails proposals work even without Weston's participation. Public roads through Weston make all necessary trail connections and there is already considerable ?informal? public use of the existing railroad corridor in Weston. A formal rail trail in Weston would be very nice, but is not essential, and in any event, is not the desire of the majority of Weston voters as of the last Town Meeting in 1997. In 2011, DCR --the state park agency--entered into a lease agreement with the MBTA--owner of the corridor---and will be begin to develop the entire Wayside Rail Trail segment. Weston included.
Would such a trail prevent a railroad from returning? Of the 104 total miles, roughly 20 miles between I-95 & I-495 have some potential for restored Commuter Rail service. However, A commuter rail service restoration study for the Mass Central corridor concluded that restoring train service would not attract many new riders, and would cost over $120 million in capital expenditures, and would also create additional yearly operating deficits of $10-15$ million. Nevertheless, the corridor was built for mass transit use and has been retained for just this reason. When and if the merits of transit use are compelling, the corridor could be recalled by state officials for such uses. Click here to see the report in its entirety as a PDF file.
What about the most active trail section, where the Wachusett Greenways is building many miles of the trail? This is the 30 mile section in the center of the Commonwealth passing through Sterling, West Boylston, Holden, Rutland and Oakham. ( The Sterling section is a spur along a different former rail line. ) They are a nonprofit all-volunteer group established in 1995 to connect the Wachusett community with trails and greenways. Together with the Towns, state agencies, foundations, businesses and other groups, they are building and maintaining the MCRT and helping people discover the joy of exploring the lands right in their own towns.
How much will it cost and when will it be finished? That depends. The Wachusett Greenway's 30 mile trail cost will be about $1,000,000. A true bargain in trail dollars and that is due in large part to tens of thousands of volunteer hours, and generosity of local donors. The typical trail paved trail is much more expensive-about $300,000 per mile, while stone dust surfaces are much less. There are several locations where bridges have been removed or filled in with gravel. These will add to project costs.
Will eminent domain takings be necessary to complete the trail? No!! Most of the corridor is already in public ownership and in the sections where it is not in public ownership, the various trail groups, land trusts and municipalities will be working to obtain easements. A few land owners have been approaching these groups to do just that for a while now.
Will the entire corridor have to be paved? No! In the mid 1990s, MassHighway indicated that all bikeway projects receiving state or federal funds had to be paved to meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards for access. That directive has been relaxed and communities can now choose their surface. This is not 'inventing the wheel'. Virtually all other states also have deemed that well-built soft surface trails are suitable and ADA-compliant for wheel chair access. In all likelihood, depending on community preferences, the Mass Central corridor will be a mix of gravel, compacted stone-dust and possibly even some porous pavement sections. Click here to go to MassHighway's chapter about trail development and you'll see that stone-dust is an allowed surface material. [caution this is a 3 meg file.]
There are currently almost 70 separate rail-trail projects underway in Massachusetts Unfortunately, rail trail projects in the Commonwealth do not just happen. Large numbers of visible and vocal supporters, political support at the state and local levels, and extensive media coverage are essential. Stay involved in whatever way you can. Join your local rail trail advocacy group. Ask candidates questions about what they will do if elected. Let your local newspaper know your thoughts as well. Being quiet never got any rail trail built in Massachusetts.