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Riding On Railroad Ties


By Christian Donner - Posted on 10 April 2010

On the first warm Friday afternoon of the season I decided to seize the opportunity and explore the BCRT by bike – mountain bike, that is. I had not seen the entire length of the future trail, only what can be seen from the various road crossings along the way. The vegetation is encroaching onto the tracks, and there are sections that can become difficult to navigate later in the season, so this is an activity that I did not want to postpone.

I left my house and biked down Harding Street, where the speed limit is 40mph. Several trucks passed me so close that I could have touched them, had I stretched out my hand. Passing cyclists at a close distance seems to be a way for some drivers to aggressively convey a message. They were telling me “Get off this road, you don’t belong here. Or else … .” I could not wait to get off the road and onto the tracks.

I had never before tried to bike on railroad tracks, so I was not sure what to expect. It seemed that with many ties rotted out and the space between them leveled with leaves and grass, it shouldn’t be too bad. I had underestimated the experience. Some sections were almost smooth and I was able to cruise along, but for the most part, the ride was torture. The bike survived, but my lower back felt raw, and my head felt like it had suffered a slight concussion when I got back home.

One of vistas along the trail

But what I saw was worth the suffering. There are stunning vistas along the trail. I am sure that the many brooks and streams created by the recent rainfalls contributed to the beauty of the ride, and there was water gurgling everywhere left and right. The rail bed itself was dry throughout. There are a couple of small wooden bridges at the beginning of the ride, no more than 6 feet long. They are in reasonable shape and could be repaired and covered with planks for bikes and pedestrians.

Once I had left Hunt Drive behind, I entered truly uncharted territory. The tracks curve slightly to the left (West) at first. This is the approach to the Channings Pond area. The view of the pond itself is probably shielded by trees in the summer. I saw water, but could not really tell whether it was a pond or just a puddle left from the rain storm.

The tracks are on a high rail bed in this section, about 50 to 80 feet above the natural grade. It is quite impressive. Railings will be needed on both sides of the trail for several stretches in this area, because the steep drop-off can be dangerous.

As I continued the ride, the rails curved to the right. The grade rises up above the rail bed. There was obviously some blasting done when the railroad was constructed. Rock walls are on both sides of the tracks. At this point, I had developed a better technique on the bike that allowed me to go faster. Standing up, trying to be as relaxed as possible, and trying to keep the weight distributed equally between both tires, I tried to go as fast as possible, flying over the gaps between the railroad ties, so to speak. It did not really work, and I was relieved once I saw the first houses appear on the right (the properties on Knollwood Drive).

According to my GPS, I had covered 4.1 miles on railroad tracks in a little over 1 hour. I did not seriously consider riding back on the tracks and used Pine Street for my return to Medfield.

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