From rail bed to footpath, Holliston Rail Trail had been in the making for years
HOLLISTON – Almost every morning Rod and Jennifer Burgett walk the Holliston Rail Trail, a 6.7 mile path stretching from the Sherborn Line to the Milford Line.
“It’s peaceful,” said Rod Burgett a day after the first snowfall of the season. âEven though he’s going through town, he’s set back enough for it to be quiet. I saw wild animals – deer, turkeys. It’s relaxing.”
Jennifer Burgett said she liked the way the trail traverses the city.
âIt’s nice to have a place like this to go,â she said. âIt’s long enough that if you’re staying in town it’s a good place to exercise (or) cycle. … People are here whatever the weather.
The Holliston Trail is part of the Upper Charles Rail Trail, a still unfinished 25-mile walking trail that is built on an old railway line connecting Ashland, Holliston, Sherborn, Milford, and Hopkinton. Decades in the making, Milford and Holliston are the first two communities to complete their portions, comprising approximately 13 miles.
The Upper Charles Rail Trail
The idea for the Upper Charles Rail Trail was started by John Thomas, a resident of Holliston, chairman of the Upper Charles Conservation Inc. land trust in the early 1990s.
He was the “first to see the potential of rail conversion and worked for several years to collect data, support and promote the concept,” according to the Friends of the Milford Upper Charles Trail website.
A resident of Holliston may have been the first to propose the creation of the trail, but it was Milford that was the first community to complete their portion of the trail.
The Holliston section was completed in 2018, with the completion of the 8 arch bridge and this area nearby.
For years, it looked like the Upper Charles Trail project would never get off the ground, according to Herb Brockert, prime contractor for the Holliston Trail section of the trail.
At first there was a lot of paperwork, no money, and no real opportunity to purchase the land that would become the trail, he said.
âI was like, ‘How could this happen? “But hanging on and being persistent … here we are,” he said. “I never dreamed at first that we would be here. It seemed impossible.
Once upon a time there was a railroad
The trail dates back to the 1800s when the Boston and Worcester Railroad was built. The railway was the main form of transport connecting the two cities. Outside the main line there were various shorter spurs, according to local Holliston historian Joanne Hulbert.
âThey came out like tentacles,â she said.
What is now the trail was once a segment of the trail that ran from Framingham to Milford. This part was built in the 1830s.
âOnce they started building railways in America, they burst onto the scene,â she said.
For a short time, Holliston was a well-known town in the region. Mills and shops were built along the railway line.
This reduced the time it took to get into Boston from days to hours, she said.
âIt really opened up Holliston to the rest of the world,â she said.
But with the advent of the automobile, the importance of the railroad began to decline. The last passenger train was taken out of service in 1959, Hulbert said, and the last freight train was taken out of service in the late 1970s.
One of the big problems with using the freight train was that the tunnel under Highland Street was too short for modern trains.
Let’s make a cycle path
With the unused rail, city officials began to draw up a plan.
In the 1980s, the Holliston Conservation Commission discussed creating a 2 mile cycle path on an old platform that started at Cross Street and ended at the Milford Line, according to Holliston Trails committee chairman Robert Weidknect.
âIt was an idea, that’s all it was,â he said.
It was launched until 1997, when Consolidated Rail Corp. came to an agreement with the city that it would give the land to the city for free, Weidknecht said.
But this is not the case.
CSX Transportation bought Consolidated Rail and pulled out of the deal, telling city officials they should buy the land instead.
The city was able to get a design phase grant from the federal government when it thought the deal with Conrail was on the table. But when the city found out it was not receiving the land, funding for the project was delayed for nearly 30 years.
âThe roads department said, ‘You are not ready. Come back in 2024 â, said Weidknecht
It took the city 13 years before they could convince CSX to sell the land to them. In the meantime, the city was able to secure other portions of the land.
The first lands of the Holliston Trail were privately owned and were either donated or purchased by the city. The first part of the trail was completed in 2012.
When CSX gave the city the go-ahead to buy land for the trail, Holliston didn’t have all the necessary financing on hand, so they bought piece by piece, Weidknecht said. The city mainly used ongoing grants from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, as well as other sources, including bonds guaranteed by its state officials and senators.