Category Archives: Bay Colony Rail Trail

BCRT status


Photo of the newly opened Bay Colony Rail Trail in Needham.

Bay Colony Rail Trail Status

Evan Weisenfeld recently asked me what I knew about the current status of the Bay Colony Rail Trail (BCRT) in town, and since I suspect this is a topic of great interest, I will respond here where more will see it, than directly to his comment.

In my mind there continues to be strong interest to build the Medfield section of the BCRT, which,  from memory, is less than 1.5 miles long.  It would run from Ice House Road to the Dover line.  The town study committee that was appointed several years ago to look into building the BCRT, I believe, was waiting to see what Dover did, and now that Dover has voted at its town meeting last week to proceed, I expect that things will start up anew in Medfield.

Christian Donner has been our town’s longest involved proponent of the BCRT, and I read this past week that he thinks we should go ahead with the BCRT without the environmental insurance (it costs the town about $25,000, if the matching state monies still exist, and $50,000 if not), and that we should build it with the use of our DPW, town funds, and private fund raising.  If we build it from Ice House Road to the Dover line, I expect Dover would build their section out to meet our section.  The BCRT will be a great asset to the town and the region once it is built.

The financial landscape has changed because of the declining price available from  recycling the rails, so that the money earned from salvaging the rails will no longer pay for the total installation costs, as it did in the past, so funds will need to be secured for the building of the BCRT.  Needham got about $200,000 in state monies from an earmark that Rep. Garlick got passed several years ago, which they combined with monies that were raised privately.

BCRT status update

Christian Donner kindly updated me yesterday in a lengthy call on the status of the Bay Colony Rail Trail:

  • Newton has built its section, from Rte 9 to the Charles River
  • Needham is proceeding with its section from the Dover line more than half way across town
  • Dover is working through with a local citizen group what it will be doing
  • Christian recently walked the Medfield section with Joe Hattum who runs Iron Horse Preservation, a nonprofit company that builds rail trails in exchange for the right to salvage the metal from the rails.  The good news learned from Joe was that the Medfield section has mostly heavier gauge tracks, meaning there is more iron, meaning there is more salvage value, and meaning Joe says that Iron Horse can provide Medfield with a stone dust trail for no cost to the town at all, whereas other towns have had to pay something to get their rail trails.
  • Christian reports that while Newton and Needham opted to pay the approximate $25,000 cost for the insurance against third party liability for those being injured by the environmental hazards along the rail trail, many more towns by far have opted to proceed without that insurance due the the exceedingly low risk that the towns would ever have to indemnify the MBTA under the contractual obligations that the MBTA requires towns to accept as part of the 99 year lease of the right of way.  Christian and I agree that the Medfield section probably is unlikely to have been heavily polluted with hazardous wastes, and that it is highly unlikely that a rail trail user would ever be harmed by hazardous waste while using the Medfield section of the Bay Colony Rail Trail.  Therefore, if Medfield decides to forgo the insurance, Medfield could have its own section of the Bay Colony Rail Trail without cost if a future town meeting opts to proceed.

Bay Colony Rail Trail by 2014?

This from the Bay Colony Rail Trail Association –

Update for Medfield, 11/12//2013
On Track with the Bay Colony Rail Trail
The Bay Colony Rail Trail (BCRT) is the 7-mile long recreational path that traverses through the towns of Needham, Dover and Medfield.  The path in Medfield runs from Ice House Road north towards Hunt Drive in Dover. More information is available at
Dear Friends,
More than a year has passed since the last email went out to rail trail supporters in Medfield, which has left many of you in doubt about the future of the project.
This email is intended to do two things – first, bring you up to date on the events of the past 15 months in all four towns, and second, describe the tasks that Medfield’s Rail Trail Study Committee will try to accomplish next year.

Plan globally – build locally
Starting in 2011, study groups, friend of the trail-groups, and local support groups formed in all towns, and the rail trail turned into a series of local projects.  The Bay Colony Rail Trail Association, the 401(c)(3) non-profit corporation that is sending you this email update, coordinates efforts between towns and manages fund-raising campaigns.

Newton has been a role model and will be the first town to have a usable section of rail trail on the Bay Colony Railroad corridor. A lease with the MBTA was signed in September. A ground-breaking ceremony was held on October 25, and construction is currently under way (here is a link to a report of the event with pictures). The Upper Falls Greenway, as it is called, may be open to the public before the end of the year (weather permitting)!

Dover residents voted last spring against allocating $50,000 to fund an engineering study for the trail, concerned about the cost burden to the town. A private donor immediately jumped to the rescue by pledging the full amount that is needed, but before the town can move forward with commissioning a study, a rail trail vision with broad support must be developed. The Dover study committee went back to the drawing board and is preparing a plan with a reduced scope that may not include the section between Haven Street and the Charles River on the Needham side.

Meanwhile in Needham, two articles related to the rail trail were withdrawn from last spring’s Town Meeting to allow more time for BCRTA to define the project scope and demonstrate its ability to raise the necessary funds. Supporters in Needham returned to the town meeting on November 4 with over $100,000 in the coffers of the BCRTA, evidence of the generosity of many Needham residents and our sharpened fundraising skills. This time, the article passed with flying colors, and if the remaining funds can be raised (and we have no doubt they will), Needham will have a rail trail in 2014 or 2015.
You can follow the fund-raising progress in Needham at their new website (

In Medfield, the Study Committee took a wait-and-see approach in 2013. Committee members felt while the project was on hold in both Dover and Needham, trying to charge ahead would not have been the best use of their time and energy. Consequently, there was no warrant article for the rail trail in Medfield this year.

Momentum is building
In retrospect, and in spite of some setbacks, we can say that 2013 has been a terrific year for the project. Newton will likely have a trail early in 2014, and Needham will begin trail construction soon after that. With Iron Horse Preservation Society doing the work in Newton and Needham, their equipment will be in the area already, and Medfield could follow right after Needham.
This initial round of construction will leave us with a trail that is a bit more fragmented than most would like to see. However, there is one thing that we have learned in over 4 years of rail trail advocating: it is better to take small steps than no steps.
The following updated map shows the different trail sections and the year when construction starts.

Map of trail sections

  • The Newton section (in green) will run from Curtis Street to the Charles River in Newton and end there with a scenic overlook.
  • The northern section in Needham with the bridge over Route 128 and the Charles to Newton will remain in its current state, with the Route 128 bridge being dismantled as part of the lane-widening project.
  • The southern section in Needham (in blue) will likely run from High Rock Street to the Charles River and end there with a scenic overlook.
  • The northern section in Dover between the Charles River and Haven Street will remain unfinished.
  • The southern section in Dover (in red) will run from Haven Street through the center of town to Hunt Drive.
  • The Medfield section (in yellow) will connect to the Dover section at Hunt Drive and end at Harding Street. While Hunt Drive technically does not constitute the Medfield-Dover line, we hope that it will be possible to let the Medfield section end at Hunt Drive and not in the woods a few hundred yards to its south.

A trail to nowhere?
“What if Dover decides not to build a trail?” people have asked. The answer is simple. We want a continuous trail between Medfield and Needham but will accept that the trail may come together in pieces. Someone has to put the first piece on the table, though, and if Medfield is ready and Dover is not, we should not wait. There is a lot of support for a trail in Dover and a talented and motivated group of people is working on making the project palatable for the town.

What to expect in 2014?
Newton is currently constructing a trail. Needham will very likely follow next year. Medfield could also have a trail in 2014 or early 2015. For this to be possible, Medfield residents will have to vote in favor of a rail trail warrant article that will likely include a one-time expense for an insurance policy and the leasing the corridor from the MBTA.

The Rail Trail Study Committee will work out a step-by-step plan and schedule for the construction phase and will detail the projected costs and present the recommendations to the Board of Selectmen.

Stone dust in Danvers
IHPS installs stone dust on the Danvers rail trail

A budget estimate for phase 1 in Medfield

$35,000 Insurance policy (50% refunded by the state)
$0 Removal of rails and ties, grading (if done by Iron Horse Preservation Society)
$0 Road crossings – rail removal and paving (if done by DPW in collaboration with IHPS)
$30,000 Stone dust surface (cost of material installed by IHPS)
$50,000 Amenities for parking, landscaping along the trail, signage, limited fencing
$20,000 Maintenance budget in escrow for 4 years (estimate)

If the town can cover the one-time cost for the insurance policy, the Bay Colony Rail Trail Association will raise the funds to cover the estimated $100,000 cost for phase 1. In Needham, funding is coming from individuals, businesses, raffles, local family foundations, and money that was appropriated two years ago in the state transportation bond bill. We believe that a fundraising campaign in Medfield will be a bit different in its make-up but equally successful. We will start our fundraising campaign in Medfield once the Needham fundraising goal has been reached.

This project has come a long way, one step at a time, over several years.  With your continued support, we can see this through to a beautiful trail for all of us to enjoy. Stay tuned for more updates over the next months as we get closer to the town meeting in April.

Best regards,

The BCRTA Board

Parking Options
Options for parking and trail access at Harding Street (Source: Rail Trail Study Committee)
logo 2BCRT volunteers needed… 

The Bay Colony Rail Trail needs help with several activities.

  • Fundraising
  • Project Management
  • Outreach to abutters and others
  • Research & Documentation
  • Marketing Communications
  • North Segment Planning

If you might be interested, you’ll have an opportunity to raise your hand and learn more at our regular meetings.

Or if you can’t make it to the meeting, drop us an email at and we’ll get you connected to the right people.

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Bay Colony Rail Trail Association
23 Mackintosh Ave.
Needham, MA 02492
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BCRT update

Guest article at –

Guest column: Rail Trail from Needham Heights to Newton

By Thomas Connors, Guest Columnist

Four years after proposing a rail trail spanning Newton, Needham, Medfield and Dover, the project is still slow, but finally picking up speed. The south section (Red Wing Bay at the Dover town line to Needham Junction) is being studied by a consulting firm, and town meeting will be asked to support leasing and construction. However, the fate of the North section, 1.1 miles from the Newton town line at the Charles River behind Staples to the new Senior Center at the MBTA Needham Heights commuter rail station, is still up in the air. Converting this section into a greenway will result in a low stress bicycle route between the towns of Newton and Needham, greatly increasing safety to bicyclists, and making an easy and safe walking path for our new Senior Center and residents of the expanded Wingate assisted living center on Gould Street. Residents of Evelyn Road will have a pleasant access to Needham Heights and Newton, for biking, walking with friends, family and dogs. Unfortunately, with the current state of affairs, this prime open space will turn into a wasteland consisting of unused, decaying rail tracks overgrown with weeds and various trash strewn around, as well as the arsenic from the rail ties seeping underground. In addition to the squandered recreational opportunity, the inaction on the North section will result in depressed neighboring property values as well as potential environmental hazard.

The good news is the recently released MAPC study of using the rail line as a bus bypass road to avoid congestion on Needham Street in Newton resulted in a conclusion that was cool to the idea of a bus sharing the narrow rail trail with walkers and pedestrians. Calling the proposed bus project “costly and challenging”, there was little to encourage the town of Needham to pursue a bus option rather than commencing active planning for a rail trail. Newton has engaged with Iron Horse, a New Hampshire-based non-profit, to construct their mile with a free or low cost surface in autumn of 2013. Iron Horse is ready, willing and able to proceed south from the Newton town line, constructing the free or low cost path simultaneous with Newton, also in the fall of 2013. Iron Horse can build the North section in Needham in 2013 while doing the section in Newton, thereby connecting the two towns with a linear bicycle and pedestrian greenway.

A few challenges remain, such as designing good safe road crossings at Gould and Webster Street, but the Needham DPW and Traffic Management Committee have long experience in road calming and traffic management. Engineering problems are their specialty and the traffic volumes are well within normal range for rail trail crossings, with many successful local examples of crosswalks and push-button light signals including the popular Minuteman Bikeway in Lexington.

The final challenge is the bridge over route 128, scheduled to be removed in 2016 as part of MassHighway’s Add-A-Lane project. However, MassDOT has repeatedly re-affirmed its commitment to replace the rail bridge and is waiting for the town of Needham to specify the purpose of the bridge. The MBTA has previously studied extending a Green Line spur from Newton to Needham Heights and found it prohibitively expensive and has not included it in their 30 year funding request. The recently released MAPC bus-bypass road study has removed bus traffic as a feasible use of the bridge, so the only remaining option is the most inexpensive – a bicycle and pedestrian linear park greenway rail trail bridge.

We urge the town of Needham to collaborate with Newton and MassDOT and the Needham Heights community to commence planning the rail trail, in particular to utilize Iron Horse to construct a basic free or low cost path in 2013, and submit a request for MassDOT to replace the existing bridge as a bicycle and pedestrian bridge several years from now when the Add-A-Lane project gets to that area of their project. Taking these steps is financially prudent and responsible, and will result in a safe low-stress crossing over route 128, for today’s residents and generations to come.

Thomas Connors is a cofounder of the Friends of the Needham Rail Trail Greenway and the Bay Colony Rail Trail Association. The Friends of the Needham Rail Trail Greenway is having their monthly meeting at 7:30 PM on Thursday March 28, at the Needham Public Library. Meetings are posted at and everyone is welcome and encouraged to attend.

BCRT update

The Friends of Needham Rail Trail Greenway sent an email that updates the status of their efforts to create the Trail Bay Colony Rail Trail – see the email update here.

They always have great graphics, and this time they have great information too (projecting part of the Bay Colony Rail Trail as being built this year.

Friends of the

Dover & Needham to vote on BCRT

Reported from Tuesday’s four-town meeting on the Bay Colony Rail Trail –  Needham and Dover have town meetings the same day, May 6th, each of which now seem to be heading for rail trail related votes.

Needham Bank supports BCRT

Needham Bank Challenge, December 2012
On Track with the Bay Colony Rail Trail
The Bay Colony Rail Trail (BCRT) is the 7-mile long recreational path that traverses through the towns of Needham, Dover and Medfield.
Dear Friends,

We’re delighted to announce that Needham Bank has offered another generous gift, along with a challenge, to support the Bay Colony Rail Trail Association (BCRTA).

Needham Bank was among the first donors to step up and support the BCRTA in a major way when we first started our adventure.

Because the bank is our local community bank – their folks work here and live here – they can see that a safe and beautiful rail trail would be a wonderful asset for all of us who live in the area.

To help us to push ahead with the trail, Needham Bank has extended a challenge that kicks off on January 2, 2013:

For every BCRT supporter who doesn’t currently have a checking account at Needham Bank and who chooses to open one, the Bank will donate $100 to the BCRTA.  Just mention this offer when you open your account. The numbers get quite impressive when you consider that we now have a couple thousand supporters.

Eric Morse, VP at Needham Bank, explained, “We know that people don’t change banks every day, but for BCRTA supporters who are considering doing so in 2013, we hope you’ll consider Needham Bank.   With branches in Needham, Wellesley, Dedham, Westwood and Medfield it’s a great way to show your support of BCRTA. If you’d rather not come into one of our branches, we’ll come to your office or home. It’s so easy to participate in this program. Please contact one of our Branch Managers to schedule an appointment.”

For more on Needham Bank and its services, visit or call them at 781-444-2100.

Best wishes for a wonderful holiday and a very happy New Year.

Best regards,

The BCRTA Board


BCRT volunteers needed… 

The Bay Colony Rail Trail needs help with several activities.

  • Fundraising
  • Project management
  • Outreach to abutters and others
  • Research & Documentation
  • Marketing Communications
  • North Segment Planning

If you might be interested, you’ll have an opportunity to raise your hand and learn more at the Wednesday evening meeting.

Or if you can’t make it to the meeting, drop us an email at and we’ll get you connected to the right people.