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Getting Started








Welcome.  Whether you have never heard of a rail trail, a regular user of part of America's 11,500 miles of trails, a concerned citizen, or just browsing, I hope this site proves easy to use and informative.

Project Introduction  |  Site Navigation  |  Questions & Answers

The Project
Hopedale, Upton, and Grafton are great towns.  Linking them once was a thriving freight and passenger railroad.  Constructed in the latter half of the 19th century, the Grafton and Upton Railroad would become one of the busiest shortline railroads in the state.  Its original owners (the Draper Corporation) operated the line for almost 80 continuous years.  Today, the rails beyond a 400 yard section in North Grafton are quiet. Overgrown with young maples and long grasses, paved over in places, and generally looking forlorn, the once mighty shortline no longer has customers calling for the lumbering locomotives to come down its track. 

Although attempts were made to revitalize the railroad to West Upton and hopefully to Hopedale, it hasn't come to be.  It has been over five years since the last reported run of freight on the line (road salt to West Upton), and more than fifteen years since there was a delivery to Hopedale (1988). Not officially "abandoned", service south of Grafton Center seems to be an impossibility.

This project is an extension of the G & U's history.  A new chapter.  A new life.  Not to be "just" another rail-trail, this project seeks to use the corridor as a means to teach residents and visitors of the area's history.  Now on the Register for Historic Places with the national park service, Hopedale is the state's largest site in the Register, composed of the Town's common, the Draper Corporation industrial site and dozens of its factory built duplexes throughout town.  With Hopedale, Upton and Grafton are part of the Blackstone River Valley National Historic Corridor, a special type of national park dedicated to "preserve and interpret for present and future generations the unique and significant value of the Blackstone Valley" and its contributions to the origins of the American Industrial Revolution.

Just as the railroad once actively connected these towns, a unique type of linear park, a rail-trail, can continue to make connections between people and places.  Too often in our busy lives we may forget the history that got us here, the nature just out our door, and our neighbors just down the street.  

Take a few minutes to stroll around the site.  Register with many of your neighbors.  Learn how to volunteer.  The site is meant as just a first step in a long process that will bring many groups, communities, and their people together for one common goal; a fifteen mile long park for walkers, horseback riders, rollerbladers, and cyclists alike. 

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Site Navigation (so how do I go about using this site?):
Here is some information on the major areas of the website.  If you'd like to see the site map, click here.

Getting Started:  (That's this page.)  It provides general information on the project, site overview, and some answers to the most common questions asked by visitors.

General Plan:  Has more specific information about the physical features of the project.  Includes the project map.

Town Pages:  (Hopedale, Upton, Grafton) these are much like the General Plan, but are broken down by town, with satellite photos, dozens of pictures, observations, and future possibilities.

Next Step: So how does one go about putting together this great park?  This page will give a thumbnail sketch as to what lies ahead in the development of this railroad into a recreation zone.

Contact: Want to get involved/  Kept up to date on the trail's progress?  Have a question?  Whatever your desire, the Contact Page is meant as a place to get in touch with organizers.

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Questions and Answers  (click on a question to get to its answer):
Where are the Towns of Grafton, Upton, and Hopedale?
What is the Grafton and Upton Railroad?
Why convert the Grafton and Upton Railroad to a Rail Trail?
Why would I want a Rail Trail in my town?
Why are some people against Rail-Trails?
What is Railbanking and Rail Trails?
Who will this Rail-Trail be for?
Who is Scott Conlin and what is this project all about?

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Where are the Towns of Grafton, Upton, and Hopedale?
These three towns are can be found in southeast Worcester County, Massachusetts.  Linked by MA Rte. 140, the towns also share a common history as mill towns during the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century.  All of these towns still retain much of their early colonial architecture, quiet suburban lifestyles, and the skeletal remains of industry that, for the most part, has been gone for more than 30 years.  For more information about each town, click on the links to the left.  Each contains historical and census data, as well as pertinent information about the project for each town.

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What is the Grafton and Upton Railroad?
The Grafton & Upton Railroad was formerly an electrified shortline, which converted to diesel locomotives in 1946. It has been operating, on and off apparently, since 1873. Founded originally as a passenger line, The Grafton and Upton evolved into a freight railroad with interchanges that allow access to shippers across North America.  Consisting of  15 miles  track running from North Grafton, Ma. to Milford, Ma., the Grafton and Upton has an interchange with the CSX railroad. Commodities shipped on the G&U line include bulk commodities, general merchandise, aggregates, and lumber.  The estimated currently used length of the railroad is about 1/2-1 mile.  G&U has a long and interesting history and was once many times longer than it currently is.  It has one engine that it purchased from the St. Louis Terminal RR.   The remains of the G&U's major yard can be seen in Hopedale, at the site of the former Draper Corporation, an owner and biggest customer of the line. The Draper complex has been empty since operations were shut down in the 1970s, and some rail has been removed.  Although most of the G&U rolling stock that was formerly stored in the yard has been scrapped, a green, wood-sided ex-Central Vermont flanger can be found here. Also, one can find the unused scale track and scale house, which contains a Fairbanks-Morse scale. The nearby Hopedale Coal & Ice company appears to have once received shipments by way of the G&U. Also located in the yard is a two-stall enginehouse.  Operations are currently concentrated at the North Grafton end of the line, where the only active locomotive, a 1950s-era ALCO S4 No. 212, is kept at the Washington Mills plant (about 1/2 mile from mile post 0). This company receives a good number of covered hoppers, as well as a few box cars.
     The Official Grafton & Upton railroad website: www.centralnewengland.com/railroad.htm - site no longer active.
     A comprehensive history of the G & U: www.nrhs.com/spot/grafton/
     Sixteen historic pictures of the railroad: www.fortunecity.com/marina/harbour/26/graftonrr.html
     Grafton Historical Society page: www.grafton.k12.ma.us/VirtualHistoryTour/Industry/GraftonRailroad.cfm

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Why are some people against Rail-Trails?
Landowners living alongside or near corridors are often the people most apt to oppose a rail trail project.  Most fear trespassers, an increase in crime and/or vandalism, loss of privacy, or increased liability.  These are concerns that are often out of gut-reaction, and not based on research, which is more than understandable.  With more than 350 new trails opened in the past five years or so, there is plenty of published information to learn of the real outcomes of trails versus anticipated concerns.  Liability, for instance is mitigated at the town level in this case, by rolling each section of the rail trail into existing policies that the towns have for other parks and public buildings.  For landowners, there are laws on the books in every state except Alaska that protect landowners from recreational liability.  In other words, the plaintiff would have to prove that the landowner was "wantonly and willfully" engaged in misconduct.  

Others against the trail often site the loss of "potential" in a transportation structure as a railroad corridor.  This is not true.  Under federal guidelines in railbanking, the corridor is never "lost".  If it ever deemed to be economically feasible to reopen the rail line, it is permissible under federal statues to do so, and is the right of the original owners, prior to conversion.  Because track such as on the Grafton & Upton is so antiquated, converting from a rail trail is generally the same cost as updating existing track, ballast, crossings, switching equipment, and ties to meet compliance.  CSX, one of America's largest railroad companies, uses $300 per FOOT as a general cost guideline for the renovation of track to meet compliance.  For this corridor, that would equate to  just under $1.6M per mile, or $23.75M total.

A third major area of arguments against rail trails is a philosophical one that is much tougher to argue against frankly.  The point is that the federal, state, and local government should not be in the business of land ownership.  Since States like Colorado and Utah are each comprised of more than 60% federal lands, and almost all the countries parks and outdoor activity areas are under public control, there is much precedent for the public in supporting parks in its communities nationwide.  In fact, each of these three towns already own public space for their community's enjoyment with little to no opposition.

As the project moves forward I will have much more information related to all of these points addressed on this site, both the good and the bad.  The worst I feel someone can do is not tell the truth when arguing for public support on a topic, as the truth will always be found.

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What is Railbanking and Rail Trails?
Railbanking (as defined by the National Trails System Act, 16 USC 1247 (d)) is a voluntary agreement between a railroad company and a trail agency to use an out-of-service rail corridor as a trail until some railroad might need the corridor again for rail service. Because a railbanked corridor is not considered abandoned, it can be sold, leased or donated to a trail manager without reverting to adjacent landowners. The railbanking provisions of the National Trails System Act as adopted by Congress in 1983 have preserved 3,707 miles of rail corridors in 26 states that would otherwise have been abandoned.  Opponents of railbanking have unsuccessfully challenged the constitutionality of the railbanking provisions of the National Trails System Act in the United States Supreme Court and continue their efforts to stop implementation through onerous legislative restrictions on trail development introduced regularly in Congress. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy remains vigilant in monitoring legislative and legal assaults on railbanking and will continue to build support in favor of the railbanking statute in the future. The 3,707 miles of preserved rail corridor are a testament to the importance of the act.
     The Rails to Trails Conservancy website:

     

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Why convert the Grafton and Upton Railroad to a Rail Trail?
First let me say this project can really only happen if the property, known as the right-of-way is declared abandoned.  This is either done with or without the permission of the party that owns the line. Currently, efforts are underway to begin constructive conversations with the parent company of the railroad and its owners (the Luceys) as to their opinions on the potential of this project.  Since the rail line beyond the 400 yards of track currently in use have gone without operation for so many years, it is expected that the owners would be interested in participating in such a civic-minded project that both ensures the name of the line for generations.

FINANCIAL.  The Grafton and Upton Railroad, to the best of my ability to find out, has not operated equipment along this proposed route with any financial success.  Opening the line for Wickes Lumber in Hopedale has proved too costly, as has projects in Grafton and West Upton.  Rail trails have proven to bring a significant economical impact to the region around a trail, and to date, no rail-trail nationwide has had a negative financial impact on its area. Specific numbers on economic impact studies will be forthcoming to the site.  For now, feel free to do a search on these studies.
RESIDENTIAL.  The entire rail line no longer has numerous industrial-zoned areas flanking it, as it once did.  Most of the entire line is now zoned residential in all three communities, preventing any future development of rail depots.  Areas such as downtown Grafton and at Williams St in Upton have many more homes now along the line than ever before.  As the greatest impact of rail trails are increased property values, rail trail abutters are the first to gain from the project.
OPPORTUNITY.  The line has basically gone unused for the better part of twenty years and more.  Congress this year (2003) recently reinstated their support of the funding initiatives that make projects like the GURT a reality in communities across the country.  As state support revenues continue to drop, small residential towns like Hopedale, Upton, and Grafton struggle looking for new ways to bring in revenue while keeping a balanced sense of community - one that selectboards are often blamed in ignoring.
COMMUNITY.      The towns share history, are similar in nature, and are all member towns of the Blackstone Valley National Historic Corridor.  It provides a new park for residents and visitors to enjoy at all times of the year, and to take pride in.

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Why would I want a Rail Trail in my town?
Rail-trails provide places for cyclists, hikers, walkers, runners, inline skaters, horseback riders, cross-country skiers and physically challenged individuals to exercise and experience the many natural and cultural wonders of the nation's urban, suburban and rural environments. Rail-trails not only serve as independent community amenities, they also enhance existing recreational resources by linking neighborhoods and schools to parks, waterfronts, recreational centers and other facilities.  As stated above, it positively impacts the local economy, protects against blight and vandalism, and increases regional cultural awareness.

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Who will this Rail-Trail be for?
Rail Trails are open to everyone.  First and foremost they are for the residents of the communities they are located.  Secondly they are for interested visitors, whether they are are family and friends of residents, fans of rail-trails, or regional residents looking for a different experience in the outdoors, trails are for everyone.  With that said, there are some exclusions.  Rail trails are not designed for motorized and high speed traffic.  That is what roads are designed for.  Although policies differ from one rail trail to the next, the general rule of thumb is that use is restricted to non-motorized vehicles traveling under 15 miles per hour.  However, in many areas of the Northeast and Upper Midwest, snowmobiles do have some rights in winter months depending on trail width, average foot and hoof traffic, and the radius of curves in the trail.  The trail is meant to be INclusionary, and not EXclusionary.  At this point it is too early to say who/what will not be allowed to use this public space.

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Who is Scott Conlin and what is this project all about?
Scott Conlin is the web guy on this project.  The author to this website, graduate of Hopedale High, long-term resident, and long-time advocate of cycling and outdoor adventure.  In 1997 I first surveyed the right-of-way to learn if this project could be viable.  After hiking a good deal of the rails and taking notes, I learned from the family they were interested in reactivating the line to Hopedale for Wickes Lumber (see above).  Now I find myself revisiting the project, and am happy to see that there are many local residents interested in making this a reality.  I intend no harm to anyone, and for those who are already concerned about property rights, trespassing, traffic, cost, etc., I assure you I would like to work with you to mitigate these issues.  That is why this site is up early.  I would like to hear from everyone involved. 

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MMII-MMIII Scott Conlin / gurt.org
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last updated: 12/1/03