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Rail Trail Steams Ahead with Feasibility Study

Needham Special Town Meeting approves $35,000 feasibility study for the southern section of the rail trail project.

Engineers will be looking over a path from Needham Junction to the Charles River, which could see a rail trail come to be within two years.

Following a unanimous vote, warrant article 11 was approved for a $35,000 feasibility study on the southern portion of the rail trail. This is the first step in turning the defunct railbed into something the town can use. A related article, number 8 intended to create a rail trail committee, had been withdrawn. 

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"While the town is paying for the study, most of the cost will be covered by private funds." Selectman Jerry Wasserman explained, "In short, it will be a very public process leading to a public amenity at little cost."

Kathleen Phelps, an attorney with the Bay Colony Rail Trail Committee (BCRTC) said that the group acquired a lease on the land for "basically free" and that they are working with Iron Horse Preservation Society which will salvage the iron, scrap the wooden ties, and lay a basic surface.

According to the BCRTC website, the salvage cost of the iron "more than covers the cost of the removal."

Moderator Michael Fee clarified that the study will only cover the southern portion, because of an existing grant which only covers the southern section of the rail bed.

The BCRTC hopes the Rail Trail study will lead to a basic surface being laid down within the next one to two years.  

The northern portion of the railbed is separated from the southern by Needham Center. Creating a bike link between the two halves is a concern of Thomas Connors, who proposed the withdrawn article 8, and article 9 which proposes the creation of a bike and pedestrian committee. This article was referred to the Board of Selectmen. 

Selectmen Vice Chair Daniel Matthews explained, "the Board is opposed to creating a new committee with overlapping responsibilities and a broad, unfunded mandate."

He added that the town intends to reexamine the existing 10-year-old bike plan, but feels it is best doing so with the Traffic Management Advisory Committee examining all aspects of transportation, rather than breaking biking needs out separately.

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