The Cochituate Rail Trail (CRT) is a proposed multi-use trail which will extend from the Village of Saxonville in Framingham to Natick Center, a distance of 4 miles. The Framingham section of trail is now finished. Construction was done in various phases and this section was completed in the spring of 2015. The Natick section is in the planning stage with a public hearing for its design also planned in the upcoming months.
As with most of the 1500 rail trails in the US today, the CRT will be heavily used for walking, jogging, cycling, and possibly rollerblading. Wheel chair users, dog walkers, birders, and parents pushing baby carriages will all find a home here. The CRT has the potential to become one of the most popular recreation facilities in Metrowest.
The CRT will also be heavily used for transportation. Due to its close proximity to office buildings, shopping centers, schools, and residential areas, it will provide residents with an attractive alternative to driving. A planned connection to the commuter rail station in Natick center will open the door to even greater transportation use.
Much of the trail will be quite scenic. The trail passes near streams and wetlands in Framingham so the trail is a beautiful linear park providing valuable open space near several business parks and connecting to conservation land. The trail will pass along the shores of Lake Cochituate and woodlands in Natick providing natural space for nearby retail centers, businesses and residents.
The trail follows the Saxonville Branch rail line which once travelled southeast from Saxonville to the active Boston to Worcester commuter line in Natick Center. Built in 1846, the historic Saxonville Branch was used to construct the dam for Lake Cochituate, which supplied water to the City of Boston from 1848 to 1951. The line also serviced the textile mills of Saxonville until 1973.
Rail service along this section was discontinued in 1973. In 2010, the town purchased the entire right of way from the two prior owners, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) and the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority (MTA) to facilitate work on the East Framingham Sewer Improvements Project.
When the town Department of Public Works decided to install a sewer main underground within the corridor in 2013, it also paved most of the trail and installed new bridges where the trail crossed Cochituate Brook. During the summer and fall of 2014, the remaining portion of the trail was paved and benches and kiosks installed. The remaining work, installation of traffic controls and final landscaping were done in the spring of 2015. The ribbon cutting ceremony occurred on May 14, 2016 with hundreds of people enjoying the day by walking or biking the trail.
The proposed 2.5 mile long Natick section will start at Route 30 near Home Depot and Cochituate State Park. A bridge over Route 30, connecting the southern end of the Framingham portion with the northern end of the Natick portion, has been proposed. It will travel southeast along the shore of Lake Cochituate, cross the lake using an embankment, and cross Route 9 on a new bridge. It will continue through several residential areas, pass Pegan Cove Park, and terminate at the commuter rail station in Natick Center. The trail will pass close to many businesses and office buildings on Speen Street, and a side trail will connect to the Natick Mall, AMC Cinemas, and Shopper's World Mall using the old Wonder Bread spur line. Although the spur connecting the Cochituate Rail Trail to the Natick Mall is still in the conceptual stage, there now is a path beginning at the Speen Street crossing and continuing west to Flutie Pass. This spur will continue through Shoppers World and terminate at Route 9 once a project within Shoppers World is completed.
A few years ago, freight service on this section of the rail line finally ceased. The town of Natick filed for railbanking in August, 2006 and established a CRT Task Force in September, 2006 to advise the Town. Natick and CSX have reached an agreement on the transfer of the railroad corridor and is putting together the means to purchase it. Natick has completed a survey of the wetlands adjacent to the trail and completed its 25% design. In July 2015, the Metropolitan Planning Organization approved the construction of the Natick portion in the federal fiscal year 2018. A public hearing was held on January 11, 2017 to discuss the 25% design.
At it’s Special Fall Town Meeting, Natick approved the purchase of the railroad corridor from CSX. The town is proposing borrowing almost $3 million and using $3.1 million from an open space stabilization fund. In addition, $11,000 has been donated for the purchase.