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MWDN: Ashland, Framingham teaming up on rail issue today

November 19, 2009

November 19, 2009
By Kendall Hatch, The MetroWest Daily News

Officials from Ashland and Framingham are hoping to work together to ensure that a state purchase of the Boston-to-Worceser rail line won’t further congest traffic in the two towns.

Selectmen from Ashland and Framingham, where downtowns are nearly brought to a standstill when trains pass through, are meeting with Jeffrey Mullan, secretary of the state’s newly consolidated Department of Transportation this afternoon to talk about transit issues in the two towns.

State Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, who coordinated the meeting, said it was not only an opportunity for town officials to voice concerns, but also a chance for the state to update the towns on the status of negotiations with freight carrier CSX Corp.

The meeting at 4 p.m. at Ashland Town Hall won’t allow for public comment, though the public is invited to attend.

“We are both in the same predicament with at-grade crossings,” said Framingham Selectman Dennis Giombetti. “It’s a good time to bring the secretary up to date as to the situation in both towns.”

State officials finalized a $100 million deal in September to purchase the tracks from CSX. While the deal hasn’t been closed and it could be a few years before the state takes control of the tracks, town officials said they wanted to make their concerns known ahead of time.

“This is a long-term issue we have been having,” said Ashland Selectman Adam Shuster. “What we have been trying to do is say, ‘Look, we have some unique challenges here.”‘

Chief among those challenges, said Ashland Town Manager John Petrin, is the effect of frequent train crossings on public safety.

Ashland’s fire and police stations sit very close to the at-grade crossing on Main Street. Whenever a train passes, the town is essentially split in two, he said.

“Police and fire can’t respond to calls,” said Petrin, adding that while commuter rail trains only take about a minute to pass, freight trains can extend call response time significantly.

“Some of the freight trains take 15 minutes,” he said.

Lt. Gov Tim Murray, speaking in Natick earlier this month, said the deal with CSX could allow the state to increase train speeds, run more express trains and expand rail freight.

While these measures could decrease highway traffic and bode well for other towns in the area, town officials say they’re worried the increased rail traffic could further exacerbate problems in Ashland and Framingham. Murray said last month that the state was committed to working with the towns to address the issue.

Framingham Selectmen Chairwoman Ginger Esty said last month that she hoped the CSX north yard on the shore of Farm Pond could eventually be moved and the tracks could be sunk, partially or fully, to allow the bridge-building process.

“It would completely revitalize the town if we had lakefront property,” she said. “There is a lot at stake.”

Giombetti said Framingham officials have met with state officials a few times in the last year to discuss solutions. Now that Ashland is taking further steps toward addressing the issue as well, such as hiring consultants and drafting tentative downtown plans, the two towns need to work together, he said.

“Two towns together gives us a little more clout and strength. Joining forces around a common goal is always better.”


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