Cambridge Has Grand Plans for the Grand Junction Rail Line

The "Grand Junction" rail line near the MIT campus photographed in June 2019. The corridor is being redesigned to include a new dedicated bike and pedestrian pathway and a possible new rapid transit line.
The "Grand Junction" rail line near the MIT campus photographed in June 2019. The corridor is being redesigned to include a new dedicated bike and pedestrian pathway and a possible new rapid transit line.

The City of Cambridge has kicked off a public design process to build several key segments of a new bike and pedestrian pathway that would cross the city from the BU Bridge to the Somerville city line along the Grand Junction rail line.

The Grand Junction today is a little-used freight rail line, but with its wide right-of-way, planners are eyeing it for its potential to create a key rail-with-trail link across Cambridge, connecting the BU Bridge to the west to Somerville’s extended Community Path (currently under construction as part of the MBTA’s Green Line Extension project) to the northeast.

The "Grand Junction" rail line and Grand Junction Park, looking south from Broadway in Kendall Square, in June 2019. Plans are being made to extend this short section of trail all the way to the BU Bridge to the southwest and to the Somerville city line to the north.
The “Grand Junction” rail corridor and the Grand Junction Park, as seen from Broadway in Kendall Square in June 2019. Plans are being made to extend this short section of trail all the way to the BU Bridge to the southwest and to the Somerville city line to the north.

The trail plans for the corridor are closest to implementation. One short segment, between Main Street and Broadway (pictured above), was built in 2016 as part of Cambridge’s Grand Junction Park project.

The city plans to start construction on a short northward extension of that segment to Binney Street later this year, as part of the Binney Street Park project, and has committed funds for a future extension northward to the Somerville city line.

MIT, which owns the portion of the corridor that runs through its campus, has committed funds for design and construction for another half-mile extension south of Main Street to Pacific Street:

A map of the Grand Junction corridor with funding status for various trail segments. Courtesy of the City of Cambridge.
A map of the Grand Junction corridor with funding status for various trail segments. Courtesy of the City of Cambridge.

The final segment, from Pacific Street to Memorial Drive, has not yet secured funding but is controlled by MassDOT, which is supportive of the rail-with-trail concept. Linking the trail to and across Memorial Drive, and ultimately across the BU Bridge to the Paul Dudley White pathway in Boston, will require additional coordination with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

A segment of the MBTA's "Rail Vision" map (for service alternative 5) shows a Grand Junction rail shuttle running between North Station and a new West Station in Allston by way of Kendall Square. Courtesy of the MBTA.
A segment of the MBTA’s Alternative 5 scenario from its “Rail Vision” planning study shows a Grand Junction rail shuttle running between North Station and a new West Station in Allston, by way of Kendall Square. Courtesy of the MBTA.

Transit plans for the corridor remain very conceptual at this point, but the trail segments are being designed in a way that preserves plenty of room for expanded rail service.

Because the middle of the Grand Junction corridor runs straight through the heart of booming Kendall Square and could eventually link the Worcester Line to North Station, the City of Cambridge, MBTA officials and Kendall Square businesses are keen to preserve and upgrade the rail line in the near future – potentially with a new commuter rail station serving Kendall Square.

A Kendall Square Mobility Task Force report in 2017 focused on the rail line’s short-term utility as a new bike and pedestrian connection, but also noted that “a passenger transit link between North Station and a future West Station in Allston would increase accessibility to Kendall, support economic development, and relieve pressure on the core of the MBTA system.”

A new commuter rail connection via the Grand Junction is also being studied in the MTBA’s ongoing “Rail Vision” study.

With these possibilities in mind, the new bike and pedestrian trail will be designed to preserve room for at least two tracks for a future rail transit line.

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