Have Questions? We Have Answers!
This information is current and has been reviewed by the Town of Swampscott.
What is the Swampscott Rail Trail?
The Rail Trail will create a 90,000 square foot linear park on a former railroad bed that runs the length of Swampscott, providing access for all the town’s residents to new open space for enjoying recreation, the outdoors, and our community.
Where will the Rail Trail run?
The Rail Trail will run almost two miles from Stetson Road (a short walk to the commuter rail station) to the existing Marblehead Rail Trail. The trail will run completely within the National Grid utility corridor. The trail will pass through neighborhoods, wooded areas, past ponds and town-owned conservation lands. It will have street crossings at Paradise Road, Walker Road, Humphrey Street, Bradlee Avenue, Beach Bluff Avenue and Bellevue Avenue.
The Rail Trail will also connect three of Swampscott’s five schools (Clarke, Stanley, and the Middle School), as well as the town baseball fields while passing within a half-mile of the High School and Hadley School. See the Map page for more details.
Why is Swampscott creating a trail?
Swampscott residents, their representatives, and Town committees have repeatedly endorsed creating the Rail Trail to increase Swampscott’s limited open space, provide safe routes to schools and parks, allow people a place to exercise, and provide access to a range of natural habitats. You can view the Documentation page for a list of community plans supporting the creation of the Swampscott Rail Trail.
Who is working to create the Rail Trail?
Over the years, many people have worked to advance the creation of the Rail Trail. In 1999, a 501(c)(3) non-profit called SPIRIT was formed. SPIRIT raised funds to pay for surveys and appraisals necessary to advance the creation of the Rail Trail.
A second group, the Swampscott Rail Trail Implementation Committee (RTIC), was created by Town Meeting to bring the trail to reality. The committee’s members were appointed and they held public meetings and forums as needed. With the 2017 Town approval to develop the design and engineering plans, a new committee was appointed – the Rail Trail Design & Construction Advisory Committee (RTDCAC). The meetings are usually at Town Hall. Please check the town website and/or Town Hall postings for meeting dates and times. The Rail Trail Design & Construction Advisory Committee meetings are public and all are welcome to attend. The RTDCAC is currently working with the Town Administrator, the Town’s Office of Community Development, the Board of Selectmen, and other Town committees to move the Swampscott Rail Trail project forward.
In addition, there is a volunteer community group – The Friends of the Swampscott Rail Trail – that fundraises for trail construction and maintenance. This group also keeps the community informed about the project through this website and a Facebook page.
Who owns the land where the Rail Trail will be located?
The Rail Trail will run along the former railroad land that runs from the Swampscott Train Depot to the Marblehead line. Much of this land was sold by Boston & Maine to Massachusetts Electric in the 1960s. Mass Electric (National Grid) currently owns the fee interest to or an easement on most of the land for its electric power line corridor. Some areas may be owned by abutters to the railroad land. The Town will obtain, by donation or acquisition, a recreational easement over the land where the Rail Trail will be located. Donations of the recreational easement will likely be tax deductible. For all other property owners, the Town will acquire the recreational easement via eminent domain and pay property owners for the value of the recreational easement.
What does the railroad corridor look like now?
Other than the completed sections, the existing railroad corridor is for the most part overgrown with invasive trees and plants, strewn with trash, and in disrepair. The width of the rail bed ranges from 35 feet to as wide as 115 feet in sections along its almost two mile length. Some areas are clear and easily walkable and are already being used by walkers and kids playing and riding bikes. Other sections are almost impassable due to the overgrowth of invasive plants like Japanese knotweed and places where trail neighbors have erected fences.
Who pays real estate taxes on the land where the Rail Trail will be located?
National Grid pays all of the real estate taxes for the land where the Rail Trail will be located. The establishment of the Rail Trail in this area is not anticipated to change this. No private abutter to the utility corridor pays real estate taxes on this land.
How will concerns of neighbors to the trail be addressed?
The Town is committed to ensuring the Rail Trail is a win for everyone, general community members and trail abutters alike. First and foremost, the RTDCAC will undertake to design and construct the trail in a manner that is most sensitive to property abutters.
Second, mitigation efforts will be utilized wherever possible to minimize the impact of the trail on property abutters. Such measures may include the use of vegetative screens to provide increased privacy for abutters. All decisions regarding the design, engineering, and implementation of the trail will be made at public meetings open to all. The Town leadership and RTDCAC will work directly with trail abutters during the design, engineering, and implementation phases to address their concerns wherever possible.
How will the Town obtain the right to use this land for a Rail Trail?
The Rail Trail will run along the former railroad land that runs from the Swampscott Train Depot to the Marblehead line. That land was sold by Boston & Maine to Massachusetts Electric (now National Grid). Much of this land is still owned by National Grid, while some areas may be owned by abutters to the railroad land. The Town will obtain, by donation or acquisition, a recreational easement over the land where the Rail Trail will be located. Donations of the recreational easement will likely be tax deductible. For all other property owners, the Town will acquire the recreational easement via eminent domain and pay property owners for the value of the recreational easement.
Will the Town, National Grid, or abutting property owners be responsible if someone is injured on the Rail Trail?
Recreational Use Statutes and government immunity from tort claims will protect the Town from potential liability claims.
Additionally, Massachusetts law protects land owners that allow the public access to their property for recreational use.
According to the experience of other rail trails as reported by the Rails to Trails Conservancy, “adjacent landowners are not at risk as long as they abstain from ‘willful and wanton misconduct’ against trespassers such as recklessly or intentionally creating a hazard. Trail managers minimize liability exposure provided they design and manage the trail in a responsible manner and do not charge for trail access.”
How can the Rail Trail benefit Swampscott’s economy?
Communities with rail trails have seen economic boosts, as residents and visitors spend more on products related to a rail trail use. Businesses on rail trails and in close proximity to trails also have seen boosts, as rail trail users patronize these businesses. A 1995 paper summarizes research on this economic phenomenon, finding significant spending by trail users.
Even though the Swampscott Rail Trail does not run directly past Vinnin Square or the Humphrey Street commercial area, it is less than a mile from these areas. Given the size of town, it is easy to imagine that Swampscott would see an economic benefit from the Rail Trail.
What will the Rail Trail look like?
The Rail Trail will be an approximately ten-foot wide, unpaved path, with two foot shoulders on either side. Like the existing Marblehead rail trail, the surface will predominantly be hard-packed stone-dust. The corridor itself is between 40 and 80+ feet wide, so the Rail Trail will be situated within a larger area of open space and in a location and manner most beneficial to neighboring properties. As much of the existing native and non-invasive vegetation as possible will be maintained (while not inhibiting National Grid access to the power lines). Where additional landscaping is needed, native plants will be added when possible. Split-rail fencing will be installed along some segments to delineate property lines but other types of fencing may be requested by trail neighbors.
Will the Rail Trail be lighted?
No, the Rail Trail will not have lights. Similar to other public parks in Swampscott, posted hours for the Rail Trail will be dawn to dusk.
Will there be any bridges along the Rail Trail at street crossings?
Yes. While the trail could be designed and built with all at-grade crossings, the Town is considering one bridge over Paradise Road. This bridge will provide much improved safety for crossing the state road that sees the highest amount of traffic in our community. All other street crossings will be surface level and designed with adequate safety features including signage, lights, and other traffic calming measures reviewed and approved by the Town of Swampscott Traffic Study Advisory Committee, Department of Public Works, Fire Department, and Police Department. Safety is the #1 consideration in design of the trail.
Will the Rail Trail comply with the American Disabilities Act?
Absolutely. The Rail Trail will comply with the American Disabilities Act.
Where will people park to access the Rail Trail?
If users of the Rail Trail need to drive to this linear park, they will have an opportunity to park at the Swampscott Middle School or at the Stanley School. From these point, trail users can follow the Rail Trail in either direction. Because the Rail Trail runs through the center of the community, most users will typically walk/bike/run to the Rail Trail to then enjoy the amenity.
How will people gain access to the Rail Trail?
Trail users may gain access to the Rail Trail at the points at which the Rail Trail intersects public roads and other public spaces such as the middle school. The access points and areas where the Rail Trail will cross public streets will be designed, engineered, and constructed to ensure safe access.
How will users of the Rail Trail safely cross the street especially where bridges used to exist?
The Town will ensure safe crossing for pedestrians and bicyclists where the trail intersects a street. Crossings will be clearly indicated with proper street markings and signs. In those areas where there used to be a railroad bridge and stone embankments and where it is now steeply sloped from the trail to street level, the trail will be designed to comfortably descend to street level. All road crossings will be designed by professional engineers to ensure maximum safety.
How will construction be funded for the trail?
The Town of Swampscott is seeking public and private grants and donations to fund construction. For example, there are substantial federal and state dollars available for trail construction, particularly for rail trails that will connect to other existing trails or modes of public transit, as our trail would. There are funds available for constructing the trail surface, adding vegetation and screening, providing educational and safety signage, and addressing the safety needs at street crossings.
Friends of the Swampscott Rail Trail are also fundraising for the creation and maintenance of the trail. Tax deductible donations can be made on our Donate page.
What will the $850,000 approved by Town Meeting in 2017 be used for?
The $850,000 overwhelmingly approved by Town Meeting in May 2017 will be used to hire engineering firms to complete the trail design and engineering and to acquire the rights to a permanent recreational easement along the National Grid utility corridor. The design and engineering will include topographic plans, a wetlands survey, and road crossing design and permitting plans, among other things. Any of the funds not spent for design or easement acquisition will be returned to the Town.
Couldn’t we use the money spent on the Rail Trail for other purposes?
In 2017, the Board of Selectmen unanimously decided that implementation of the Rail Trail was a priority. Town Meeting then unanimously approved the allocation of $850,000 for the design, engineering, and easement acquisition of the Rail Trail and this decision was then approved by the entire community, voting in as special election in June 2017. There are indeed other projects in town requiring funding, but there is broad recognition that our town has significantly underinvested in open space.
In the past decade, not including the new turf field, which will be used by a small portion of our residents, only approximately 3% of the town’s capital has been invested in open space. This Rail Trail investment is an open space investment for all residents and all neighborhoods.
Who is going to pay for maintaining the Rail Trail?
Maintenance costs for the Rail Trail will not be borne by the Town of Swampscott. Consistent with how it has been successfully done in communities throughout Massachusetts, local volunteers will help maintain the Rail Trail. The Town will be working with the volunteer organization Friends of the Swampscott Rail Trail who will act as stewards of the park space – paying for and coordinating trail maintenance. In addition, local businesses have already pledged in-kind donations for landscaping and beautification of the trail.
Based on information from trails around the country, the Rails to Trails Conservancy estimates the yearly maintenance of an unpaved two-mile trail like ours to be $2,000 per year.
Impacts (Environment/Property Values/Safety)
How will the Rail Trail affect community safety?
One of the major goals of the Rail Trail is enhance community safety by providing a path with very few street crossings on which people (especially young people) may walk, run, and bike.
With respect to concerns about crime, creation of the Rail Trail will convert a currently-deserted and densely-overgrown corridor into a cleared, maintained, and publicly used space. A 1998 report found that “(t)he research that has been conducted, along with anecdotal evidence, suggests that converting an abandoned rail corridor to a trail actually tends to reduce crime by cleaning up the landscape and attracting people who use the trail for recreation and transportation.”
The Swampscott Police Department is on record as finding that they will be able to provide adequate public safety to protect the community when the trail is established. Research conducted on the subject of crime and rail trails has found that suburban rail trails have a lower average rate of crime when compared to the overall suburban crime rate.
Will my home value be affected by the creation of the Rail Trail?
Research shows that homes located closer to bike paths and greenways see increases in value. A 2016 review in Delaware found that in suburban New Castle County, Delaware, homes within 50 meters of bike paths commanded a 4% price premium. A 2008 study of the Little Miami Scenic Trail found that each foot increase in distance to the trail decreases the sale price of a sample property by $7.05. In other words, being closer to the trail added value to the single-family residential properties. A 2001-02 study looked at approximately 10,000 home sales in Bexar County, Texas, near San Antonio, and found that homes near trails with greenbelts enjoyed a 5% price premium. A similar study done in 2007 in Lexington, MA, found that home sales showed a steady climb of average price within a quarter mile strip each side of the Minuteman Bikeway after the rail trail was built.
How will the wetlands near the Rail Trail be protected?
The Town of Swampscott is required to comply with federal wetland protections laws and the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act. If it is determined that the Rail Trail traverses or impacts wetlands, those wetlands will be protected. Construction of the Rail Trail that is within the buffer zone of a wetland will be required to go through a review and approval by the Swampscott Conservation Commission prior to the construction of that section.
Will the Rail Trail affect wildlife habitat?
The path of the Rail Trail will be cleared of any physical impediments but the majority of the land within the rail bed will remain intact for wildlife habitat. A designated and well-maintained trail will alleviate National Grid from undertaking their regular clear-cutting of a much wider swath of land along the rail bed – to the benefit of plants and wildlife. The removal of trash and dumped items along the rail bed will also benefit and enhance wildlife habitat over its current state. In addition, the removal of invasive tree and plant species within the rail bed during trail construction will restore the balance of the native ecosystem and increase biodiversity.
What is the source of funds for the $850,000 approved in 2017?
The Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee contemplated using either bond proceeds (i.e. debt) or “free cash” (which is unrestricted available funds held by the Town) to cover the project costs. Both the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee elected to bond the $850,000 in order to take advantage of historically low interest rates and to allow the Town to instead apply a significant amount of “free cash” to reduce the tax rate in FY2018. The bond will be repaid over 20-years and the total cost to the Town in the first year will be approximately $65,000, which is only 0.1% of the Town’s $67,000,000 operating budget. The cost to the Town decreases each year thereafter.
Prior Town Meeting Votes did not appropriate money for the Rail Trail. Why was funding in 2017 required?
Appraisal and title work done by the Rail Trail Implementation Committee (and paid for by the nonprofit SPIRIT) confirmed that title to the utility corridor is more complicated than originally understood by National Grid, the town, or SPIRIT. Additionally, and in part because of the title issues relating to the utility corridor, since the last Town Meeting vote, National Grid has stated that it is unable to grant the town a low-cost recreational license for the utility corridor.
In order to address the title issues and to secure the legal rights necessary to facilitate the Rail Trail, the town decided it is necessary to acquire from National Grid and any other parties holding a title interest in the utility corridor (by eminent domain or otherwise) recreational easements along the utility corridor.
The design and engineering of the trail is needed to identify the precise location of the recreational easement to be acquired. Once the recreational easements are secured, the town will be eligible for the federal, state, and non-profit grants for the construction of the trail – the same grants used by other towns to fund the construction of their rail trails.
Will the Swampscott Rail Trail be prevented due to litigation?
News reports and comments made at public forums about the Rail Trail include comments from a few abutters threatening “litigation” to delay or prevent the Rail Trail from becoming a reality. While there are many abutters who strongly support the Rail Trail, we understand there are some that have concerns and questions about the trail. The Board of Selectmen have made it clear that the town will seek to meet with each abutter along the utility corridor to ensure that the trail is designed and implemented in a manner sensitive to reasonable concerns and request raised by abutters.
There is no legal process available to abutters or others to successfully prevent the town (and public) from acquiring and using the recreational easement. The only challenge relates to the amount of compensation paid by the town for the recreational easement – and even then, the town receives and has the right to use the recreational easement while any dispute concerning compensation is resolved. As stated above, however, it is the town’s commitment to work with abutters to address reasonable concerns and requests so to avoid disputes.
How have other communities acquired the necessary recreational easements to create rail trails ?
Communities have acquired recreational easements for rail trails from utility companies, the MBTA, railroad companies, and private land owners through donations, consensual agreements and eminent domain. This is consistent with how Swampscott will acquire the recreational easements for the Rail Trail. Below is a list of some of the communities where eminent domain was used to acquire rights (from both private and non-private property owners) for rail or bike trails. Eminent domain is also commonly used by communities to acquire property interests as it clears any potential defects in the property’s title.
- Acton – Bruce Freeman Rail Trail
- Adams – Ashuwillticook Trail
- Dennis – Cape Cod Rail Trail
- Northampton – Norwottuck and Manhan Trails
- Fall River– Quequechan Trail
- Framingham – Cochituate Rail Trail
- Haverhill – Bradford / Boston & Maine Rail Trail
- Maynard –Bruce Freeman Rail Trail
- Milford– Central Mass Trail
- Nantucket – Hummock Pond Bike Path/ Trail
- Nantucket – Cliff Road Bike Path / Rail Trail
- Newburyport – Clipper City