MassPike ROW flier(450K)
Rail Trail Studies
Preliminary Report of Natick Cochituate Rail Trail Task Force (Nov. 2006)
CRT Slideshow (Nov. 2006)
(latest color/Google Maps)
(1994-95 grayscale/MIT GIS)
(USGS Topo Map of same)
Sketch Map of Cochituate Rail Trail
UPDATE by A. Richard Miller (January 10, 2017)
2003: "The Cochituate Rail Trail may open as early as 2005 in Framingham and 2007 in Natick."
It might have happened. But the 1.5-mile section in Framingham didn't get built until 2015, with a ribbon-cutting in May of 2016. And the long-abandoned 2.4-mile section in Natick remains abandoned because CSX, owner of the abandoned right-of-way (ROW), is greedy and Natick was talked out of taking the matter to court. Although its predecessor rail operators had taken much of their corridors by Eminent Domain, and acquired the rest at low values under the threat of Eminent Domain takings - all for the over-riding purpose of public transportation - CSX has prevented this rail trail from offering public transportation to and from the Natick Center commuter-rail station to Boston and Worcester for lo, these many years.
On Wednesday evening, January 11, 2017 in Natick, a Mass-DOT hearing will be held on a CSX-proposed acquisition at great cost - both in dollars and in future wrongs both here and for other rail-trail projects near and far. This rotten deal would reward CSX with $6.071M for its abandoned 21.94-acre ROW. That's more than profitable, working ROW, and far, far more than comparable abandoned single-track ROW that couldn't turn a profit. (It comes to about $277K per acre or $2.530M per mile, about five to seven times what other local rail-trail projects have recently been negotiating with CSX.) This inflated price was determined by pretending that this narrow strip of contaminated property is comparable to the highest-valued adjacent (and wide, buildable) property. (The Framingham section was acquired in 1990 for a fairly-appraised $100,000; that would be $184,500 in 2015 dollars, and the equivalent value of the Natick section is $295,000. That's still less than 1/20th of $6,071,000! Abandoned-rail-corridor real-estate may have appreciated faster than the dollar, but not nearly that much.) Incredibly, a clause in the proposed purchase and sale agreement would require Natick to provide $275,000 worth of advertising about "the great generosity of CSX in offering it for only $6.071M." And why? Another clause stipulates that CSX has greatly reduced its asking price from $11M "as a charitable gift". If Natick does applaud that bogus "generosity", it will pave the way for a CSX tax break here (which tax-payers end up subsidizing) and will create a crippling precedent for similar price-inflation and obstruction on its - and other railroads' - ROW transactions across the nation.
The proposed trail design also maximizes construction costs (and already has spent over $500,000 on design costs), economizing only by narrowing down this potentially-busy transportation corridor to 12 feet from its previously-recommended 14-foot width. (The development work for the trail appears to be about three times more than on other good trails - and that's without the cost of the bridges.)
(Note: My calculations and statements are based upon public information, which can vary. I welcome more accurate information.)
I will be unable to attend this hearing in person. Will the current TrumpThink that has our nation about to build an expensive wall across its Mexican border when it "cannot afford" to maintain its failing road infrastructure and bridges, similarly impel Natick and Massachusetts to buy into this expensive boondoggle by CSX and its local spokesmen? If so, will Mass. DOT aid and abet that destructive course? Hopefully, others will be there to speak out to defeat this proposal and to demand a sensible one!
A more courageous committee can then organize other rail trail groups, State and Federal agencies, and politicians to acquire this public-transportation solution at a favorable price despite the great greed of CSX (and build it to 14-foot width, at prevailing costs). Should CSX refuse, Eminent Domain has never been more appropriate. (A current Federal Rail-Banking agreement precludes that on the main trail, but it expires this April. The "Wonderbread Spur" already is proposed for an Eminent Domain taking at no cost.) There is no need, and a great harm to be had by agreeing, to be held hostage by the current owner of this failed railroad operation.
|The "Saxonville" about to haul some passenger cars from the Saxonville RR Station. (1880 photo courtesy of the Framingham Historical Society.)|
Disappearing Freight Use:
The Saxonville Branch Line's major recent user was a once- or twice-weekly freightcar exchange at Continental Baking Company's "Wonder Bread plant" (across Speen Street, just north of the Natick Mall). As early as 1996, we predicted the imminent elimination of the Wonder Bread factory; Interstate Bakeries Corporation's acquisitions of Continental, J.J. Nissen and other bakeries had left it with too many no-longer-competing factories, and the current real-estate value of this site (adjacent to the Natick Mall, largest mall in New England) made it an extraordinarily expensive place to bake bread and Twinkies. In December 1998, Continental confirmed that the plant closure would occur about mid-1999, and it did close that June. In late 1999 a NYC firm bought the site and remodelled the Wonder Bread building to become a Tech Commons "data hotel", filled with a lot of computer data storage and a few technicians. But that plan fell through with the "dot-com" bubble and the property again changed hands.
In 2000, the Town of Natick removed the rails crossing Speen Street; that spur ROW remains for future trail use. Natick has an easement to extend that trail along the north and west perimeters of the old Wonder Bread site, and is including major multi-use trail design as part of the Natick Mall expansion project.
|From the RR bridge over Route 9 in Natick, the green view north toward Route 30 and Saxonville. An important urban goal: Preserving great views and that green screening!|
So now the once-busy and lovely Saxonville Branch Line is little used. Rails and the lake shoreline are poorly maintained. Trains run at walking speed, which is just as well; even so, in one year beginning October 2000 there were three at-grade collisions of a locomotive with a vehicle at Lake Street in Natick, and one of these collisions demolished a truck! Trains are expected to cease their traffic through Cochituate State Park in 2006, and the Towns of Framingham and Natick are planning accordingly.
Natick Mall Expansion:
Currently, Chicago-based General Growth Properties, the owner of Natick Mall, has acquired this adjacent site and proposes to greatly enlarge Natick Mall so much that it probably will become the largest mall in New England! They proposed to also include a hotel, then changed that to two apartment towers, and, in 2005, proposed to include the apartment towers and a hotel! Furthermore, modified plans have also been submitted to build as a separate mall -- as a way to confound Macy's lease-guaranteed veto of competing stores (specifically, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom's). So Natick (and adjacent Framingham) may get the integrated mall that was planned, or two separate ones, and with an ever-growing list of add-in projects. It has, to say the least, been time-consuming and confusing for the local review agencies.
Through 2003, the Natick Mall Expansion
proponents avoided working with local and regional groups
regarding its link to the CRT. At the end of 2003, that was a
key reason that its Draft Environmental Impact Report (including
a proposed hotel) was found deficient by the Mass. Environmental
Policy Act Office (MEPA). Through 2004, the CRT groups were
slightly included, but their minimum design goals were not met;
at the end of 2004, the resulting Final Environmental
Impact Report (now with two still-unplanned residential towers
instead of the hotel) was still judged inadequate by MEPA. The
NBPAC and other groups asked the Natick Planning Board (a)
to include at least one local-trails-savvy consultant and (b) to
include at least one nationally-prominent design group to add a
new level of bike-ped design savvy to its own planning review
team for this project, and also (c) to request (again) that
MassHighway swing its own bike-ped experts onto this important
regional project. The only part of that which was delivered was
a walking consultant (without bicyclist-design skills), and this
failed to achieve better agreement.
Other Regional Rail Trails:
A few towns to the north, the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway through Bedford and Lexington to Arlington is an excellent example of new usage for a retired rail line. Any nice weekend day finds its eleven paved miles teeming with bicycles, skaters and folks out for a walk. Once-skeptical neighbors find it far better than train traffic or idle disuse; good for relaxation, health, and property values. Other Massachusetts bikeways are in use and on the drawing boards across the Commonwealth (see MassBike, Mass. Highway Dept., multi-use trail projects map) and beyond (Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Trails and Greenways Clearinghouse). Rail trails can even coexist with busy rail lines, so either a slightly-used or abandoned Saxonville Line can serve.
|From the notched RR bridge just north of Route 9, the view southwest over Carling Pond to the boat tunnel at Route 9 (once the historic Willow Bridge).|
The Cochituate Rail Trail's trailhead in Saxonville is only a few blocks from where the Carol Getchell Nature Trail (created in 2000) runs downstream along the Sudbury River, and only a mile from another wonderful trail being planned along the no-longer-used Weston Aqueduct, on which Callahan State Park lies another 3.3 miles to the west.A western, "Bannister's Meadowland" branch for the Cochituate Rail Trail has been proposed, stretching west to extend the Wonder Bread spur line right-of-way past the Natick Mall and the General Cinema complex to Shoppers World in Framingham. This could be routed alongside the existing circular roadway, but the Framingham Conservation Commission and others are exploring how it can be routed through the large, central wild area -- Bannister's Meadowland, which supports many birds, plus deer and beaver -- for greatly enhanced separation and natural beauty. The Natick Conservation Commission is exploring another western route, from Natick Mall southwest to the signalized Route 9 crossing to Natick Promenade (until 2004, Loews Theaters) and beyond. Wetland preservation groups work to add boardwalks in such areas; shopping-mall owners and Town agencies have expressed general support for a similar project here. A large number of adjacent hotels, office buildings, bicycle dealers, and others also can help their communities and themselves by pitching in. While final plans must wait, the Natick Planning Board proactively establishes easements along the way.
|Walking bikes along the new boardwalk on the Snake Brook Trail.|
Many thousands work along the proposed Cochituate Rail Trail; of them, hundreds would find it useful for bicycle commuting to work, and many more would use it for local shopping trips, noontime biking, jogging and strolling. It also serves thousands of residents
|May 12th, 2001: With loppers and shears, CRT volunteers remove a decade of brush and greenbriar to reveal the trail.|
A year of our local efforts to organize resulted in late-1998 requests from the Selectmen of Framingham and Natick -- and support from the Mass. Dept. of Environmental Management -- to study the feasibility of converting this spur line from railroad use to recreational and alternate transportation use. In March 1999 metropolitan Boston's Central Transportation Planning Staff received authorization to begin that study, and delivered its Reconnaisance Study of the Saxonville Branch Right-Of-Way in January 2000. In general, it said the Framingham section north of Route 30 could be developed easily, while conversion of the Natick section was delayed by continuing train usage. It did not consider the two side branch options in depth.
Access to the already rail-free Framingham section is being jointly pursued by the Town of Framingham and the Mass. Dept of Environmental Management. Current owners are the Mass. Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA)
|October 20th, 2001: In the eighth CRT clean-up day of the year, CRT volunteers complete initial Framingham trail-clearing from School St. south to Route 30 (where this encroaching wall also is to be moved out).|
|July 12th, 2002 (looking back from Route 30): The old encroaching wall is being removed. For now, a lower, straight one (foreground) is being built along a staked line - still well inside the CRT ROW.|
To celebrate the opening of a first section of the Cochituate Rail Trail and to increase public awareness, "CRT-shirts" were donated by The MathWorks, Inc. of Natick. They are on sale for $10 each (to benefit CRT projects) at REI in Framingham. A new CRT brochure also was designed and became available in December 2001. (Brochure printing is made possible by a gift from REI. Text is by A. Richard Miller. The CRT logo and CRT brochure design are volunteer contributions of commercial artist Steve Broadley, and the map editing is by Tom Branham.)
A proposed commuter-rail parking garage, on South Avenue in downtown Natick, would tie in well for bicycle commuters using this rail trail. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has begun to implement multi-modal improvements. Diverse groups (Town of Natick, MassBike, MassBike/MetroBoston) are urging the MBTA to include inside, visible, safe and free bicycle parking here -- an incentive to shift more commuters from parking their cars in busy downtown Natick, as it uses the train to reduce car pressures in downtown Boston. West of downtown Natick, Middlesex Path connects to the CRT via Pegan Cove Park,
|August 27th. 2001: At proposed site for commuter-rail parking garage, NBPAC Chair Dick Miller and Natick Director of Community Development Sarki Sarkisian explain the proposed CRT-to-MBTA Commuter Rail linkage to Mass. Senate President Tom Birmingham and Mass. Senator Dave Magnani.|
A walk along this railway now is lovely, and the
improvements will make it exquisite -- a linear park,
well-screened from the bustle just beyond. Natick and Framingham
Park are blessed with this gift from the Age of Rail.
Natick's Selectmen have appointed a Natick
& Pedestrian Advisory Committee, and Framingham's
Selectmen have appointed a Framingham
Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee and, as
detailed plans became necessary, a Framingham Cochituate Rail
Trail Committee. At the June 2000 Lake Cochituate Annual
Meeting, Massachusetts Secretary of Environmental Affairs Bob
Durand and Commissioner of Environmental Management Peter Webber
committed their high-level resources. Local legislators who
support Cochituate State Park and the Cochituate Rail Trail
include Framingham's State Representatives Debby
Blumer and Tom
Sannicandro, Natick's State Representatives David
Linsky and Alice Peisch,
and State Senators Karen
Spilka and Scott
Brown. They, and through them, the
Metrowest Legislative Caucus and other legislators, are helping
to install effective bicycle parking inside the proposed garage.
Most of them, and many others, have provided strong support
letters for the transfer of MassPike's full-width
corridor. If you support these projects, let them (and us) know!
The NBPAC was founded in 1997, recognized by the Natick Selectmen in 1998, and reconfirmed in 2001 with seven voting Members (plus non-voting Associate Members). The purpose of the committee is to make Natick more bicycle and pedestrian friendly and to work with Town and regional agencies and local organizations to those ends. The committee serves as a facilitator of State and Federal funded improvements for alternate transportation, for recreational trails, and for street crossings and sidewalks in Natick.
The committee also sponsors public talks and promotes the Cochituate Rail Trail (along with the Natick Cochituate Rail Trail Task Force, Framingham CRT Committee, Framingham BPAC, and Cochituate State Park Advisory Committee), a trail along the Sudbury Aqueduct, two trails from Natick Center to South Natick, and other Town and regional trails (along with the Natick Conservation Commission, Natick Open Space Committee, Natick Walks, etc.). It leads easy walks and bicycle rides to feature local routes and recreational areas, channels public safety suggestions to appropriate agencies, and generally informs and acts in these interests.Supportive regional groups include the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition (MassBike), the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, the League of American Bicyclists, and WalkBoston. MassBike's "Your Guide to Forming a Bike Advisory Committee" is an excellent reference for many issues confronting groups such as ours.
Key reference materials (some in need of updates) include:
NBPAC Annual Report (for 2006)
MassHighway Project Development and Design Guidebook (2006)
MA Statewide Bicycle Transportation Plan (1988)
MA Pedestrian Transportation Plan (1998)
MA Bike Path System (current and proposed)