FRAMINGHAM – CSX plans to sell 3.5 miles of land from Sudbury to Route 9 to Georgetown and High Line Railway Company, LLC, a subsidiary of CSX Transportation.
The City of Framingham has been trying to negotiate a deal for more than a decade, with CSX for that land, to create the final leg of the Bruce Freeman Trail, which stretches all the way to the Chelmsford/Lowell area.
The federal government’s Surface Transportation Board has extended the deadline with the city multiple times. The deadline expires today, December 1. The Board regulates freight railways.
And today, the federal Board denied the extension for Framingham, but approved the Town of “Sudbury’s request to extend its NITU negotiating period is granted; the NITU negotiating period is extended until December 1, 2021.”
“GHL’s NITU request complies with the requirements of 49 C.F.R. § 1152.29, and CSXT is willing to negotiate with GHL for interim trail use. Accordingly, a NITU will be issued, and GHL Docket No. AB 565 (Sub-No. 1X) and CSXT may negotiate an agreement for interim trail use/rail banking of the Framingham
Segment during the one-year period,” wrote the decision.
“Although GHL itself has not previously been a prospective trail sponsor here, issuance of a NITU to GHL will have the effect of extending NITU negotiations for the Framingham Segment, which have been ongoing for well over four years,” according to the decision. “If an agreement for interim trail use/rail banking is reached by December 1, 2021, for the Framingham Segment, interim trail use may be implemented. If no agreement is reached,
CSXT may fully abandon the Framingham Segment, subject to any outstanding conditions.”
Mayor Yvonne Spicer sent a November 16 letter to the federal board requesting yet another extension through December 1, 2021.
“Because the City is now able to move forward with negotiations and pursuit of funding to acquire the final segment of the CSXT rail line to complete the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, Framingham respectfully requests a one-year extension until December 1, 2021,” wrote the Mayor to the federal Board.
CSX has requested the extension be denied.
“By decision served on December 12, 2006, a second NITU was issued allowing the Town of Framingham to negotiate an interim trail use/rail banking agreement with CSXT for the 3.4-mile portion of the right-of-way between milepost QBS 0.0 at Framingham and milepost QBS 3.40 at the Framingham town line. The negotiating period has been extended multiple times with the most recent period set to expire on December 1, 2020,” wrote the lawyer in submitting a request to deny the extension to the Surface Transportation Board on November 20.
“CSX is finalizing agreements to sell the property to Georgetown and High Line Railroad Company, LLC to preserve the corridor for potential trail use,” said Sheriee S. Bowman, Media Relations for CSX Transportation.
Georgetown and High Line Railway Company, LLC requested “a notice of interim trail use/rail banking over the 3.4-mile portion of the right-of-way between milepost QBS 0.0 at Framingham and milepost QBS 3.40 at the Framingham town line in Middlesex County,” according to the November 20 submission to the Surface Transportation Board.
That notice was submitted to Mayor Spicer, as well as former Town Manager Bob Halpin, and to the Board of Selectmen. The Maryland-based lawyer did not submit it to the City Council.
Georgetown and High line Railway Company “acknowledges that use of the right-of-way is subject to the user’s continuing to meet its responsibilities described above and subject to possible future reconstruction and reactivation of the right-of-way for rail service,” stated the letter to the federal Board.
Mayor Spicer has three reasons for her request for a 1-year extension.
She wrote: “In its Decision under Docket No. AB 565 (Sub-No. 1X) decided December 23, 2019, STB determined that the final rule in Docket No. EP 749 (Sub- No. 1) does not apply to Sudbury and Framingham’s last extension request because the final rule did not become effective until February 2, 2020. Thus, the current request for an extension is the first extension request made by the City under the new rule limiting extension requests and should be allowed accordingly.”
Spicer said the second reason was that “voters of the Town of Sudbury, Massachusetts (“the Town” or “Sudbury”) recently passed a ballot question allowing the Town to enter into an agreement with CSXT to acquire the 1.40 miles of rail corridor located in Sudbury, and to take out a loan for over $800,000 to be repaid over 10 years to finance such acquisition, thus making it much more likely that CSXT and Framingham will be able to reach agreement to convey the 3.40 miles of rail corridor located in Framingham because the rail corridor will be contiguous with the anticipated rail corridor to be purchased by Sudbury.”
The third reason was the “voters of Framingham recently accepted the Massachusetts Community Preservation Act, which allows the City to collect an additional 1% surcharge of the annual property tax assessed on real property beginning in FY 2022 (July 1, 2021), and by annual distributions made by the state from a trust fund created by the Act, to establish a dedicated source of funding to acquire open space, potentially including land for park and recreational uses such as the contemplated multi-use rail trail that is the subject of the current negotiations between Framingham and Sudbury with CSXT.”
“An incredible resource for the entire MetroWest region, this project has been in development for a long time. We are thrilled that it has reached a point where it is coming closer to fruition and that we are working closely with our partners in Sudbury to see it through,” said Mayor Spicer. “With the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing an increased desire for non-motorized individual transportation modes like bicycles, as well as to recreate outdoors. Furthermore, given the connection between COVID-19 vulnerability and air pollution, the time is now to progress projects such as this that can make
our municipalities greener and healthier places to live.”
Once the sale is finalized, the City of Framingham will need to negotiate with Georgetown and not CSX.
What is the Bruce Freeman Trail?
The Bruce Freeman Rail Trail is a rail-trail through the communities of Lowell, Chelmsford, Westford, Carlisle, Acton, Concord, Sudbury, and Framingham in Massachusetts — following the 25-mile route of the old New Haven Railroad Framingham & Lowell line.
Named after the late state representative from Chelmsford, the trail has a 10-foot wide pavement with a 2-foot wide packed shoulder on each side.
The trail is 11.7 miles long (From Lowell to Acton). A section of the trail (2.5 miles) is now opened in Concord and will eventually connect to the Action Trail with a bridge (Phase 2B) over Route 2.
The Bruce Freeman Rail Trail is open to non-motorized uses such as cycling, jogging, walking, rollerblading, and skiing.
The Framingham section of the Trail will be the last to be completed.
In November, Sudbury voters approved the purchase of 1.3 miles of former CSX corridor between Route 20 to the border with Framingham.
The portion of the trail from Concord to Route 20 in Sudbury is in the design phase. Construction set for 2023.
“We understand Sudbury is moving forward with negotiations with CSX regarding the acquisition of the Right of Way that would enable this project to each the next stage, as well as securing the necessary funding. Framingham is committed to aligning resources and efforts to make the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail a reality,” said Mayor Spicer.
Framingham Trail Group & Petition
This past weekend, District 3 resident Mary Kate Feeney started a Framingham Rail Trail group on Facebook. It already has more than 300 members.
She also created a petition to Congresswoman Katherine Clark seeking her support in requesting the Surface Transportation Board to extend the negotiations deadline.
The petition was submitted to the Congresswoman this morning, with more than 200 signatures.
“I decided to start the Facebook group and the petition to raise awareness about not only the benefits of rail trails, but to bring the community together and have our voices heard on how important the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail is to Framingham. Many residents I speak to are proud of our town, and want to work together to make it better, which includes expanding outdoor activities and fighting climate change. I am thrilled to see such strong support from a diverse group of residents who have signed the petition and joined the group over the last 24 hours,” said Feeney.
The District 3 resident said “While I am encouraged to learn of the pending land acquisition by the Georgetown and High Line Railroad Company from CSX for a potential rail trail, it leaves me with many questions: what does this mean for negotiations with Framingham? Does this extend the rail banking deadline? What is the cost? And when can the city finally plan for the BFRT in our community? It is my hope the Spicer Administration, the City Council and our state and federal legislative delegations remain in the game until we have secured the right of way to expand the BFRT.”
“Once completed, the 22-mile route will connect Framingham and Sudbury to communities as far north as Lowell, Chelmsford, and Acton. Residents will be able to access critical assets, such as jobs, educational opportunities, retail outlets, restaurants, cultural and recreational sites and activities, natural resources such as parks, and more. It will intersect with commercial districts in Sudbury along Route 20 and in Framingham along Water Street in the Nobscot Village. Its terminus, close to Route 9 in Framingham, will be close to businesses, transit, our Framingham Centre Common Cultural District, and Framingham State University,” wrote the Mayor in correspondence.