Town officials are slowly making progress on plans that could eventually see a bike trail established in Lynnfield that would connect to Peabody and Wakefield.
At Monday night's selectmen's meeting, town administrator William Gustus reported that the town has received a $500,000 state grant to develop a bike trail design. He added that negotiations with engineers and with the town of Wakefield have also been underway on the eventual scope of such a trail.
"The challenge of this trail is obviously, how do we make it through Reedy Meadow?" said Gustus, adding that portions of the current abandoned railbed are underwater for most, if not all of the year in that area.
The town administrator noted that one option under consideration was to pull up the rails and ties and build a raised boardwalk through the meadow. However, he warned that this "would be very expensive and probably cost prohibitive," even from just a design standpoint.
Instead, the town has a new and potentially novel idea on how to get through Reedy Meadow - and at the meeting, Selectman Bob MacKendrick noted that it was Mr. Gustus himself who had come up with it.
Under the new idea, surplus flatbed railroad cars would be run out onto about 4,000 feet of the old railbed. This would essentially create a raised trail about 9.5 feet wide and about six feet above grade. Gustus also noted that the federal government currently maintains entire railyards of surplus flatbed cars, which means there's a decent chance that they could be obtained at little or even no cost.
"It's an innovative way to get through the meadow and it would certainly solve a lot of technical problems," said Gustus.
In fact, town residents could learn more as early as one of the September selectmen's meetings, since a contract for design of the trail is expected in the next month. Another task in the near future will be for workers to conduct borings in the area to determine how much the ground has settled in the century or so since the railbed was built.
With these things in mind, the town will soon be assessing the integrity of the rail line with engineers and with representatives of Iron Horse Preservation. This is a Colorado-based nonprofit that builds bike trails for towns at little to no cost by salvaging and selling the railway materials that it pulls up. For more about this organization, see the link and note below.
Looking ahead, town officials also indicated that they plan to work closely with residents to address concern by abutters and others.
"We're aware this rail line does abut existing neighborhoods," said Gustus, "There will be plenty of opportunity for residents to weigh in on a final design." A design is expected to be ready for public comment at some point in the spring.
"We're still a ways away from building a trail out in that area," he said later. "But it is moving and hopefully things will start to pick up."
Editor's Note: Before joining Patch as the local editor for Lynnfield in the fall of 2010, I interviewed the director of Iron Horse Preservation for a freelance article on Hamilton-Wenham Patch about the bike trail that now serves that area. .