Finding new uses for old railroads hasn't always done much for walkers, joggers, and cyclists in Allston and Brighton, as when the space formerly used by the railroad tracks between Lincoln Street and the Mass Pike were used to widen the Pike by adding a westbound breakdown lane.
winds down its operations at the Beacon Yards facility and Romar leaves as well, it is a big open question as to what will happen on this land in the next several years. Ten years ago Harvard spent $200 million to purchase the rail yards and land under the Mass Pike. Since then, the Harvard story has been that Harvard had no access to the land while it was being actively used.
Now, the days of its active use are dwindling (Houghton Chemical and the MBTA Commuter Rail continue, using just a small fraction of the land shown in the photo above).
Harvard's new story seems to be that this land is too contaminated to even contemplate using. So I took a look at "Understanding Environmental Contaminants - Lessons Learned and Guidance to Keep Your Rail-Trail Project on Track" from the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy. The process they describe is not rocket science. For example:
Hard surfaces, such as asphalt and cement, may be used to "cap" or cover and isolate contaminated soil. Likewise, the use of crushed stone with appropriate depth may also be used.The report cites an example from Benzie, Michigan where soil contaminated with arsenic and benzopyrene was capped and/or removed and replaced with crushed limestone. The total cost for clean up, engineering, and trail surface (crushed stone) for a 3.3 mile section of the trail was $750,000.
As the CSX trains leave Allston for the last time it will be the end of an era that goes back to at least 1899 when this map was made. It will be interesting to see how quickly the cleanup starts so the next chapter can begin.