A Network of Rail-Trails Comes Together In Boston’s Suburbs

A newly-opened section of the Wayside Trail, a section of the Massachusetts Central Rail Trail, passes an abandoned trail station at the Church Street underpass in Weston.
A newly-opened section of the Wayside Trail, a section of the Massachusetts Central Rail Trail, passes an abandoned trail station at the Church Street underpass in Weston.

This fall, trail advocates and officials are celebrating ribbon cuttings on two significant new trail connections in the suburbs west of Boston: a 2.5 mile segment of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail through West Concord, and a 4.5 mile segment of the Wayside Trail (part of the longer Massachusetts Central Rail Trail, which extends from Somerville to Northampton) in Weston and Wayland.

For now, these two segments don’t connect to much, but that will change over the course of the next few years. Additional trail segments currently under design will knit together 30 miles of the Wayside Trail from Cambridge to Hudson, plus a connected 20-mile section of the Bruce Freeman rail trail between Sudbury and Lowell.

This network of rail trails will connect car-dependent suburban communities to MBTA rail stations and commercial districts, opening up car-free transportation options to thousands of households and workplaces.

While the existing Minuteman trail is one of the most heavily-used trails in the country, the Wayside/Massachusetts Central Trail cuts through even more densely populated neighborhoods through Belmont and Waltham, and could potentially attract even more daily users.

The status of rail trails under construction and in design in Boston's western suburbs as of September 2019.
The status of rail trails under construction and in design in Boston’s western suburbs as of September 2019.

Here’s a rundown of some of the many projects being planned (numbers refer to the annotations in the map above):

  1. Bruce Freeman Rail Trail “Phase 2C” project in West Concord: this 2.5 mile section, which connects directly to the West Concord commuter rail stop, celebrated its official grand opening last Friday, Sept. 27.
  2. The Bruce Freeman Rail Trail bridge over Route 2 is expected to go under construction in 2020. This short link will connect the newly-opened West Concord segment to the existing trail from Acton to Lowell.
  3. A 5-mile extension through the town of Sudbury is in advanced design, and is scheduled to receive federal and state funds for construction in 2022. The southern end of this segment would link to the Mass. Central Trail.
  4. A 4.5 mile segment of the Mass. Central Trail (also known as the Wayside Trail) finished construction this summer, and runs between the Boston Post Road in Wayland to the Fitchburg Line commuter rail tracks in Weston, near the Waltham city line. A grand opening celebration has been scheduled for Oct. 19.
  5. Waltham is also in the advanced stages of designing its own segment of the Mass. Central Rail Trail. The first section, between Main Street and Beaver Street, could begin construction in 2020. To the east of that, the town of Belmont is designing its own “community path” that would link to the existing Fitchburg Cutoff Path, the Alewife Red Line station, and the Minuteman trail.
  6. Eversource is proposing to build a 7.6-mile underground power line in the Massachusetts Central corridor between Sudbury and Hudson. If approved, that project would allow the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation to complete that trail section on an expedited basis, with the utility covering most of the construction costs (a similar arrangement allowed the completion of the Wayland and Weston section, where the trail shares the corridor with another Eversource power line). In Hudson, this trail segment would connect to the Assabet River Trail, which extends south to Marlborough.
  7. The Town of Bedford is designing an ADA-accessible upgrade to its section of the Reformatory Branch Trail to extend the Minuteman path to the Concord town line.

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