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Iron Horse Preservation Society FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions About Creating an Interim, Low-Cost Rail Trail

The Bay Colony Rail Trail is investigating the prospect of working with an organization called Iron Horse Preservation Society to remove the rails and ties from the unused railroad corridor running through Medfield, Dover, Needham and Newton. Once the existing materials are removed, the organization would create a crushed stone path – potentially at no cost to the community. This would result in the creation of a “linear park” as a recreational and environmental resource for the community that could reach completion in less time than most rail-trail projects across the country.

1. Who is Iron Horse Preservation Society?

Iron Horse Preservation Society is a not-for-profit organization established in 2005 that focuses on removing railroad rails and ties, disposing or reusing the materials in an environmentally appropriate manner, and then creating a new surface for recreational use. While based in Nevada, IHPS has worked on numerous Massachusetts rail trail projects.

2. What do they do?

Once the Right of Way to the unused and unwanted tracks has been established and permission granted from appropriate municipalities, IHPS brings equipment to remove rails and ties, and leaves behind a crushed stone surface suitable for walking or mountain biking. Iron Horse works with local towns so that the final surface and amenities are suitable for the community.

3. How does Iron Horse make money?

Iron Horse sells the iron rails for salvage value, which at a typical value of $235/ton more than covers the cost of the removal. 

4. What becomes of the wooden ties?

The ties are carefully gathered and sorted based on their condition and potential future use. No tie material is left behind. Ties without reuse capability are picked up, packaged, and used for fuel at biomass power generation plants. The rest of the ties are sorted, packaged and then transported away by truck for reuse.

5. Where has Iron Horse provided its services in the Boston area?

Iron Horse has created crushed stone paths in local communities such as Danvers, Wenham, Rockland, Topsfield and Watertown.

6. How long does it take Iron Horse to remove rails and ties?

Removal of rails and ties can be accomplished in a matter of weeks.

7. When rails are removed, what kind of surface remains?

Iron Horse generally leaves a surface of crushed stone not greater than 3/4” in diameter. This surface is suitable for walking or mountain biking.

8. How much can a town expect to pay to use Iron Horse?

Because Iron Horse covers its costs through the salvage value of the removed material, towns do not have to pay any additional fees for this service. In fact, on the Danvers project, the salvage value was high enough that Iron Horse offered other services, such as adding stop signs at road crossings.

9. What are the pros and cons of using Iron Horse?

Iron Horse Preservation could potentially create a usable trail in less time than through traditional means. In addition, the organization is the only one of its kind that specializes in the efficient and environmentally safe removal of rails and railroad ties. Its staff members are professional and customer-oriented striving to deliver an excellent service.

However, like any kind of recreational contractor, projects can still take longer than originally anticipated. In Danvers, for example, the Iron Horse project was delayed several months. This was due in part to Iron Horse having many project commitments at once, keeping crew and equipment occupied elsewhere once the project had begun. Iron Horse is committed to learning from this experience, and has been improving the way it allocates staff resources.

10. What conditions must be in place for Iron Horse to begin its work?

Two primary factors must be considered before iron Horse can begin its work:

First, there must be clear legal access to the railroad corridor, or “right of way”. In the case of the Bay Colony Rail Trail corridor, the right of way must be formally “abandoned” by the current operator, the Bay Colony Railroad. We are actively working on this process with the railroad and local officials.

Second, there must be approval from the local municipalities and/or lease holders to provide access and support for the project.

11. What is required of rail trail communities prior to Iron Horse starting?

The level of preparation and involvement depends on each town and its interests. Approval from town selectmen and other officials is certainly required. In some towns, this may be preceded by an open hearing on the project to provide information to residents, especially those living directly along or near the trail. 

The Bay Colony Rail Trail will prepare for each town policy documents, as well as a proposed maintenance plan including oversight of the trail. 

Additional activities for the town depend on the use and maintenance policies in effect, but could include signage, promotion and policing. However, citizen groups organized and coordinated by each town, or by the Bay Colony Rail Trail Association could cover these activities and more.

12. Will there more work done after Iron Horse completes its work?

The Bay Colony Rail Trail takes its inspiration from dozens of other local rail trails, such as the Minuteman Bikeway in Lexington and the Cape Cod Rail Trail. Our vision is to deliver a recreational path with similar features and accommodations.

The work of Iron Horse Preservation Society is an excellent first step on the way to realizing this vision. With a cleared and walkable crushed stone path, local residents will be able to take advantage of this natural resource sooner, and be able to better envision the value of a completed rail trail.

To learn more about Iron Horse Preservation Society, go to

IHPS FAQ.pdf158.55 KB

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