Trackless over the Charles

Grand Junction over the Charles River

Ed Hatfield photographed the empty trackbed that now makes up half of the Grand Junction train bridge over the Charles River - the only train connection between north and south track networks east of Worcester county

Copyright Ed Hatfield. Posted in the Universal Hub pool on Flickr.

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    I have an entire content set of that run.

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    There is some buzz among planners about transforming the trackless half into a bike/walkway.

    The DOT took it over from CSX late last summer and I walked it shortly after. It is part of taking over dispatch control from the CSX regional base in Dunkirk NY.

    My favorite street graphic along the bridge is probably the mushroom. There is a strange sad hobo jungle right near where the shot was taken and that little traffic island thing is a major goose roost.

    It was once the edge of a rail yard for thee arly period Ford factory that is now some Biotech thing.

    That corridor fanning west of MIT was like a silicon valley for manufacturing processes in its day.

    It mainly carries a night run of produce to the Chelsea Market usually around 12:30a. The T uses it to shuttle rail stock between the south side and its main work yard.

    The old CSX yard is now abandoned and fascinating with a strange old baggage car and other rail relics. CSX is now in Framingham.

    It also ties in with the Fitchburg line.

    There is considerable effort and interest in using rail lines that went moribund when manufacturing headed overseas.

    The area is moving toward creating a mini infrastructure of bikeways to meet the exponential use increases and it also moves more bikes off of roads.

    I've made basic you tube reference content for most of it and it does decent numbers without any SEO effort.

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    I hope...

    ... the excellent photographer was using a telephoto lens -- and not actually walking across the bridge....

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    Why?

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    Is it unstable or something?

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    That shot was taken

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    ..standing at the footing edge on the Cambridge side. You don't need anything like a long lens. I used my kit lens of a t3 DSLR

    I have an easy dozen or two from that exact spot. I belong to several google plus railroad fan communities and people loved that clip set.

    And you cross on the other fully tracked bridge. I've done it several times over the decades. It doesn't carry trains in daylight hours due to all the issues of going through Cambridge. It is a two track bridge system.

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    Wrong -- be more careful please

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    And you cross on the other fully tracked bridge. I've done it several times over the decades. It doesn't carry trains in daylight hours due to all the issues of going through Cambridge.

    It does carry trains during daylight hours, mostly MBTA equipment headed to or from BET. I see them from time to time, when I am walking down Comm Ave.

    Admittedly, it is busier on the weekends, from what I remember, but there's nothing stopping the T or CSX from using it during the weekday. It is an active railroad. Low speed, but active nonetheless.

    You shouldn't be walking on it. Not that I expect you, or anyone, to care what I say. But at least be aware.

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    I'm pretty well done..

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    '...having gotten the video and photowalk finished months ago. You can look up the CSX schedule at their site.

    It's one consist per day departing Framingham at around 11:30p and arriving in Chelsea an hour later. Freight hauling in this area is mostly over due to the manufacturing implosion across several decades. Cambridge was also able to invoke a rule against hauling flammables and toxics due to residential density. That made it even less appealing to CSX.

    I have great photos of it sitting in Framingham and will get video of the run somewhere along the line near Kendall if I can stay awake.

    The bridge is a fascinating graffiti gallery.

    The T runs are a wild card but are infrequent enough to allow whoever the graffiti crew is to make fairly elaborate designs. I can hear the horn from those T shuffles where I live and they are very rare.

    I'm really too old for it all now. I cringed during that last traverse over worry about dropping the camera in the Charles.

    I'm glad the material I made is already being used by bike advocates to work out a potential route along the abandoned second track run.

    If that happens the concerns will be water under the bridge.

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    You can look up the CSX

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    You can look up the CSX schedule at their site.
    It's one consist per day departing Framingham at around 11:30p and arriving in Chelsea an hour later. Freight hauling in this area is mostly over due to the manufacturing implosion across several decades. Cambridge was also able to invoke a rule against hauling flammables and toxics due to residential density. That made it even less appealing to CSX.

    You're wrong.

    Firstly, freight railroads do NOT run on schedules (with the exception of some time-sensitive runs, like intermodal), they run as demand, equipment, labor, etc. warrant.

    Secondly, I work in Kendall Square, adjacent to the tracks. Both the MBTA and Amtrak shuffle equipment around fairly often during the day and night, weekdays and weekends. And I've caught CSX doing their runs many times around 4:30-5 pm. But it varies tremendously. And they can run extra trains whenever necessary.

    Thirdly, the city of Cambridge has ZERO power over what cargo is carried through the city. They CANNOT block a railroad from hauling flammable or toxic materials. Various courts have upheld this principle many times throughout the years. Recently this idea has popped up in the aftermath of the derailment and explosion in Lac-Megantic, QC, and regarding the restoration of service on the Grafton & Upton right here in Mass. Towns and cities can protest all they want, but so long as the cargo is properly handled, railroads can haul whatever they need to.

    Though, to be fair, there isn't really any demand for any hazardous materials to be hauled through Cambridge - there was a proposal for an Ethanol terminal in Everett, which would possibly have used the Grand Junction, but it fell through. There are only a few industries left that are served by CSX via the Grand Junction, primarily the Chelsea Produce Market, and I don't think lettuce is a hazardous material.

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    Here's the service schedule

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    It's interesting because it has a number of clauses about excluding hazardous materials, problematic special dimension things and some other category.

    As I understand it, the DOT has owned it for a few years and they have a right to specify what can be shipped. It is accurate to say a town or city lacks any significant authority to curtail rail commerce but what about the owner of the branch?

    That has been the whole point of the exercise. The Commonwealth got sick and tired of having its commuter line to its most important gateway city be utter hell due to CSX dispatch from the Dunkirk yard near Albany. And Cambridge may have some clout with the Commonwealth about shipment restrictions it wouldn't have if the owner were CSX,

    They negotiated CSX out of the area and the daily runs must be scheduled to work with the complex yard it has to cross.

    I'd love to catch a consist on it, MOW gear is even better and commuter stock is great too. The new engines are wonderful. Thanks for letting me know!!

    Once weather is less hostile to gear I'll start logging the horn times as I'm only down the street.

    Hazardous rail cargo

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    Actually the ethanol project didn't fall through, the company, Global Petroleum, just withdrew the proposal without explanation. Obviously the large stink that was raised and the bad publicity around Lac Megantic and the uptick in other rail accidents with the recent increase in petroleum and ethanol hauling by rail, pushed them to do so - but as long as there is an asinine federal mandate for ethanol in our gasoline there will be a need to get ethanol to their blending facility in Revere on the McClellan Hwy (not Everett). They currently barge it in up the Chelsea Creek, but it would be cheaper for it to come from their Albany facility down the rail system (Fitchburg line, principally, but not necessarily exclusively) to Revere. It would very rarely (if ever) come over the bridge that's in the picture -- which is a very nice picture, by the by.

    As long as there might be a buck to be made there is the possibility of ANY product being brought in on these rails without anything that local or state authorities can do. It's interstate trade, and it's spectacular...er untouchable.

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    Yeah it is an interesting time...

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    The downside of pipeline restriction is having old creaky rail companies haul tank cars like when John D Rockefeller was alive.

    And a lot of the infrastructure is beat down crap.

    They tend to go through dense residential areas.

    I for one don't know which is worse but then I'll never own a car. An old railroad guy I know from the south, Walter, maintained the excellence of well staffed rail operations had along history of skilled handling, which is true when you consider the insane quantities of toxic crap they move around.

    Oil lobbyists like pipelines presumably because fewer people handle stuff and they can be routed through low population areas.

    A Lac Megantic scenario on the edge of Kendall Square would exceed catastrophic. I'd probably feel the fireball up here by Prospect.

    But intensive contamination of the Ogalala Aquifer is no picnic either.

    Amtrak moves equipment on the Grand Junction, too

    and for the same reason the MBTA uses it. The Downeaster from North Station to Maine is otherwise disconnected from the rest of Amtrak's national network.

    I'm sure I've at least once had to wait for an Amtrak train at an MIT-area crossing during daylight hours.

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    I've seen a Northern Shoverler Duck

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    .. at least once at the new Alewife Reservation, (they normally breed in the Arctic).

    Rail use happens, it is infrequent and unusual other than at specified times which one can look up.

    That all aside, active rail lines are never a thing to take lightly.

    Most of my rail content involves exploring abandoned lines that are under consideration for trails. So far I made reference content for the Watertown Branch, the Bay Colony in Needham, the old Mass Central that is now a key bikeway, an Eastern Rail remnant in Marblehead and another in Topsfield.

    I also cover active freight operations. The Reedville CSX yard in Hyde Park is the only European gravity style yard in the US. Reedville in general is a completely fascinating place at rush hour if you don't have to catch a train.

    My most recent winter project was a traverse of the Wildcat Branch where I may have also found a ghost alignment of the original 1838 rail bed that ran from the Middlesex Canal to Andover.

    There are all manner of rules and etiquette points that amount to common sense. CSX is generally the most hostile while the T people are great.

    My aim is to just create useful you tube reference inventory when I find voids in the search system and rail fans are a fun bunch to make content for.

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    Gravity yards

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    are an early way to use an incline to shunt an array of box cars down an array of switched tracks to make up new groupings.

    The huge yards in the US are mainly in the Midwest, which is flat, so they developed the use of a specific narrow structure called a hump that performs the same function.

    So the Hyde Park Reedville CSX yard has the entire yard on a tilt and you can tell just by following it south along Prescott street just after Hyde Park Ave becomes Neponset Valley Parkway at Wolcott Square.

    That strange underpass is the high inbound side of the Gravity yard. That general complex is one of the most interesting spots in the US from a railroad fans viewpoint.

    I intend to spend a lot more time in that area and probably as soon as snow melts as it is a very interesting part of Boston for trail planning and this railroad stuff.

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    Empty railroad bed.

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    The DOT and DCR, in the explanation of their report on Charles River Connectivity have flat out contempt for the possibilities of connecting a bike highway to the existing bike highways on the Boston side, so putting a bike highway on half of this rail bridge is silly.

    What makes sense is connecting the Grand Junction Bike Highway to Memorial Drive by a very short connector to the turn of Vassar Street a short block north of Memorial Drive.

    The Bike nonsense is a stalking horse for a on off ramp from the Mass. Pike to Cambridge by way of the Grand Junction Bridge. The purpose would be to open up the former railroad yard / Mass. Pike exit to Brighton / Cambridge for Harvard's relocation of its Medical School and related development.

    Harvard bought this area, larger than the Back Bay, within months after the MBTA proved such a ramp feasible.

    Please see my following recent reports, with links on:

    1. The Charles River Connectivity Study. http://charlesriverwhitegeeseblog.blogspot.com/2014/02/charles-river-con....

    2. Ramp possibilities, approached from the Cambridge side: http://charlesriverwhitegeeseblog.blogspot.com/2014/02/photos-harvards-t....

    3. Ramp possibilities, approached from the Boston side: http://charlesriverwhitegeeseblog.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-reality-of-ha....

    This makes no sense

    The DOT and DCR, in the explanation of their report on Charles River Connectivity have flat out contempt for the possibilities of connecting a bike highway to the existing bike highways on the Boston side, so putting a bike highway on half of this rail bridge is silly.

    The DOT and DCR having contempt for it doesn't make it silly. They have contempt for any good idea they can't claim credit for or can't figure out who would be in charge of (especially when it would be popular with the taxpayers in the area).

    The fact that it exists, could easily be adapted, and would connect two bike highways by providing off-road space over the river in an area of high cycle traffic makes it very much NOT silly.

    There is already an offramp from the MassPike to Cambridge less than a mile away. The local road facilities could not handle the traffic from an additional off ramp at this location.

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    It will be interesting to see what comes of it all.

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    The Allston side over to the bridgehead is pretty clear. A short term pilot would mainly want some bridging in the open side. It is a level shot all the way to Mass Ave with several portals. From Mass Ave to Cambridge Street is a bit more challenging and the other end might go as far as Assembly Square.

    I've walked the entire thing from where it branches off of the Fitchburg Line in back of Assembly Square. After that it traverses the rail yard and wouldn't fly.

    You could give a lot of bicyclists a safer route as it evades impressive amounts of road while connecting to a good swath of Cambridge.

    Confusing / Compelling

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    After reading the materials at the links Bob provided, I'm still left confused about how a new off ramp from the Turnpike would be configured to use the railroad bridge, and even why such a project would be undertaken. Sure, a shortcut from the Inbound Turnpike directly to Cambridge would shorten the commute for a few drivers, but the overall benefits would be minimal. Just how this connector would terminate in Cambridge; a new interchange or intersection with Memorial Drive, another ramp to the Reid rotary, or just dumping onto Vassar or Albany Streets; is not mentioned. Any such scheme would surely worsen the pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicular conditions of the area. The whole idea of making it easier for cars to get into Cambridge, without making it any easier for cars to get out of Cambridge sounds like a no-starter.

    Looking at the unused half of the railroad bridge, and imagining it as a dedicated pedestrian and bicycle pathway is certainly compelling. It seems like a logical and low-cost repurposing of an unused resource; it would make it much nicer for non-motorised travel between the two recreational pathways across the river. However, it does little to help the many pedestrians and bicyclists who are commuting to destinations across and/or beyond the Reid Overpass and the horrible, horrible intersection at Commonwealth Avenue.

    The other reason I'm conflicted about using the bridge for a pedestrian/bicycle pathway, is that it still has potential as a rapid transit corridor. Many proposals have been tossed up over the years; so far, nothing has flown very far, but it's only a matter of time before something will be done with the bridge and continuing Grand Junction corridor to North Station. The value of that reserved right-of-way for rapid transit purposes is so great, it'll eventually happen, as it should!

    If I could, I'd build an entirely new bridge across the Charles, just for pedestrians and bicyclists. It's southern end would start way over here:
    IMAGE(http://elmercatdotorg.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/southbridgeend.jpg)

    There would be multiple connection ramps, providing direct access to all sides of Commonwealth Avenue, Memorial Drive, and the riverside pathways. More likely though, the whole area around Commonwealth Avenue would be developed so that the bridge becomes part of an elevated pedestrian plaza above the Turnpike and Commonwealth Avenue, attached directly to the buildings on both sides of Commonwealth Avenue.

    At Wonderland, the new plaza elevates pedestrians (and bicycles) above all motor vehicle traffic. Replacing Blue Line with Green Line for Saint Patrick's day, imagine something like this on top of what is now the Turnpike and that horrible, horrible intersection:
    IMAGE(http://elmercatdotorg.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/img_4672.jpg)

    The existing ground level sidewalks become obsolete, but the land has enormous real estate value that can be harvested, especially when the "air-rights" above the Turnpike are incorporated into the development. If nothing else, that alone makes the new bridge and plaza financially attractive.

    Most significantly; with so many busy crosswalks gone; the ever-increasing amount of time that vehicular traffic stops and waits for pedestrians will be completely eliminated. Without doing anythings to the highways, but just taking all the pedestrians and bicyclists out of the picture, the motor vehicle traffic flow would be tremendously improved; much more than an extra off-ramp from the Turnpike to Cambridge ever could; not to mention, there would be a manifold of safety and convenience benefits for everyone!

    IMAGE(http://elmercatdotorg.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/img_5981.jpg)
    After crossing Commonwealth Avenue, the main span would be be a little higher than the Cottage Farm (BU) Bridge. As the Wonderland bridge gracefully descends across Ocean Avenue, the new bridge would similarly descend across the Charles River to Cambridge, and end somewhere around here:
    IMAGE(http://elmercatdotorg.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/northbridgeend.jpg)

    So, if they can build something like this in Revere ... and light it up [green]Green for Saint Patrick's Day[/green] ... don't tell me it can't be done in Boston!
    IMAGE(http://elmercatdotorg.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/greenbridge.jpg)