The Watertown Branch Trail - Grove St. to Fresh Pond

The Watertown Branch Trail: part of a network of paths

The "big picture" goal is to build a network of multi-use paths, used by pedestrians, inline skaters, and cyclists for recreation and commuting.

The Watertown Branch Trail, specifically, will connect between:

paths near Alewife and Charles River

For example, it will eventually be possible to ride an 18-mile loop of paths by entering the Watertown Branch Trail and biking (clockwise) to Alewife, to the Community Path, past the Museum of Science, to the Charles River Path, to the Watertown Branch Trail Connector, and back to the Watertown Branch Trail.

The trail is not intended just for recreation, however. Currently, even seasoned urban cyclists find it difficult to navigate between the Charles River and Alewife. The Watertown Branch Path, when fully complete, will allow many transportation cyclists to travel to their destinations much more easily than today.

The Watertown Branch Trail: the section from Grove St. to Fresh Pond

Building a multi-use path along the section of the Watertown Branch from Grove St. to Fresh Pond provides a particularly daunting challenge: the railroad tracks are still in use! Three times a week, Newlyweds Bakery (on Grove St.) receives flour shipments on trains operated by Guilford Industries. (The tracks are in such poor condition that, witnesses report, the trains operate at only 3 mph and nevertheless frequently derail and are forced to back up.)

There are two possible solutions:

(A) The railroad tracks are rebuilt and, in doing so, shifted to the southeast edge of the right-of-way (instead of down the center, where it is now), thus providing enough room within the right-of-way for both a multi-use trail and the tracks. The narrowest portion of the right-of-way is 24 feet, underneath the Mt. Auburn Bridge. Under normal circumstances, it would be too dangerous to place a trail so close to an active rail line, but because the trains are so slow and so few in number, we believe this solution would indeed be feasible.

(B) The railroad tracks are condemned, allowing the state or towns (Watertown and Cambridge) to purchase the right of way and convert it to open space use. We are uncertain under what conditions the track would/could be condemned, nor is it clear who the governing authority would be who could make such a judgment. Furthermore, not only would Newlyweds Bakery be unhappy with cessation of train service, but the alternative-- increase in delivery by truck-- would result in an increase in truck traffic, which is never popular. Therefore, we believe that plan A is more promising.

A visual tour of the Watertown Branch Trail from Grove St. to Fresh Pond

The following maps and photos record a 1.2 mile walk along the right-of-way, taken on November 13, 2003:

The first section of the right-of-way goes from Grove St. to Cottage St. to underneath Mt. Auburn St. This map also shows the section of the Watertown Branch Trail from Arlington St. to Grove St., which is already under design as part of the School-St.-to-Grove-St. section:

Looking northeast from the Grove St. bridge, over the right-of-way:

(directly adjacent to the bridge:)

(Further away from the bridge, the view of the tracks is covered by foliage:)

Standing on the tracks further northeast:

Looking back (southwest) from where the tracks split. The tracks to the right are the main right-of-way. The tracks to the left are a spur, headed to Newlyweds Bakery. You can see the bakery's enormous vats in the background.

The tracks to Newlyweds Bakery enter into the factory itself. Here is a view looking back northeast from the factory entrance, along the railway spur:

Next we cross Cottage St., a low-traffic road, at grade:

Here is a map of the next section, heading toward the Mt. Auburn St. bridge, underneath it, and onward toward Huron Ave.:

From just past Cottage St., we see the Mt. Auburn St. bridge in the distance:

Wouldn't it be nice to take this path and avoid all the traffic up above?:

Here is the current space underneath the Mt. Auburn Bridge. It's kind of a mess now, but when people use it regularly it will undoubtedly be a lot prettier. The right-of-way is 24 feet across here, but because the bridge underside is not curved, the tracks could be moved all the way to the right side of the right-of-way.

Two shots emerging from below the bridge, with Star Market on the right:

Continuing along the right-of-way, with Star Market on the right:

Looking back (southwest) at Mt. Auburn St.:

Here are the backs of some houses on Holworthy Place:

Holworthy Place comes very close to the right-of-way; this would be a fine connection between the path and the residential community. To the right, there is also an entrance to the Star Market parking lot. Note, however, that if the train tracks are shifted to that side, that may not be a safe access point.

It's worth noting the poor condition of the existing railroad tracks. They are so warped, it's easy to see why the trains frequently derail:

The next section of the path takes us underneath the Huron Ave. bridge and into the parkland near Fresh Pond:

We approach the Huron Ave. bridge...

... and emerge in beautiful woods near Fresh Pond:

Even when the skies get cloudy, it's a lovely area:

Looking toward the left, we see Fresh Pond itself:

Who would have thought there was such a peaceful woods in Cambridge?:

At this point, we could access the existing jogging path. We've currently walked about one mile from Grove St.:

If, alternatively, the path were extended further, it stays in the lovely woods...

...heading underneath another flat-bottomed bridge...

... and underneath it. (Again, the current condition of the tracks makes one wonder how the trains reach the bakery at all.)

Still more parkland!

Finally, we approach the Fresh Pond municipal center and the entrance by Fresh Pond Parkway:

This photo, taken about 1.2 miles away from our starting point at Grove St., shows the existing bicycle path-- it enters from the left of the picture (behind the brush and scrub), crosses the auto entrance at the wide crosswalk, veers right, crosses the train tracks, then veers left and parallels the tracks, heading north to Concord Ave.

The rails actually continue for another 0.5 miles, heading behind Fresh Pond Mall and connecting to the commuter rail lines near New St. and Danehy Park. The Alewife T Station is close by.

Someday, there will be a beautiful trail!

This page maintained by Paul Estin

Last update: Tuesday, November 25, 2003.