Tuesday, April 23, 2024

101813i-Tim-ToomeyFrom the Tim Toomey campaign, Oct. 22: On Wednesday, City Councillor Tim Toomey released a video highlighting his work on issues related to the Grand Junction Railroad in Cambridge. The Grand Junction, which traverses several Cambridge neighborhoods, has become a hot-button issue in recent years, with proposals for commuter rail trains and ethanol transport being considered at the state level. Toomey, who lives in East Cambridge several blocks from the tracks, has been a strong supporter of creating a mixed-use bike and pedestrian path in the Grand Junction’s right-of-way.

“Grand Junction is an incredible asset for our community,” Toomey said. “While it has an important regional significance, being the only rail link between the northern and southern halves of the MBTA Commuter Rail system, it is also essentially a large swath of undeveloped, lightly used land in the heart of Cambridge. With the exception of commuter rail maintenance trains and a freight train that carries produce to Chelsea several times per week, the tracks are seldom used. It’s pretty clear that there are many outside of Cambridge that have an eye on it, but unfortunately their plans tend not to benefit abutters of the tracks in any way.”

In 2010, the state Department of Transportation began studying ways to use the Grand Junction Railroad for commuter rail service from Worcester to North Station. Their plans, which included more than 20 trains per day traveling at high speed through six intersections in Cambridge and Somerville, were met with intense community skepticism and opposition. Toomey’s outspoken opposition helped force the state to more closely study the plan, and it was eventually shelved.

“That was a real victory for our community,” Toomey said, adding that the Massachusetts Sierra Club joined in opposition to the state proposal. “There is such a strong need for better public transportation in our state, but that was not the way to do it … By blocking that proposal, we kept Grand Junction open to uses that will provide tangible benefits to Cambridge residents.”

This year, Toomey emerged as a leading voice in the fight to stop a Fortune 500 company’s plan to use railroads in Cambridge and Somerville to move millions of gallons of flammable ethanol each week. The plans included the possibility that Grand Junction could be used for trains carrying more than 60 tanker cars full of flammable chemicals. This proposal was met with intense community opposition not only in Cambridge, but in many of the surrounding communities. After a successful push by legislators at the State House, Global Partners, the petroleum company behind the proposal, backed down from their plans.

“Again, this was an immense victory for our neighborhood and the entire region, really,” Toomey said. “An accident in a place like Cambridge or Somerville would have disastrous effects. While we have one of the best trained and best equipped fire departments in the entire country right here in Cambridge, an ethanol accident in an urban residential area would necessitate a regional response capability that just does not exist right now,” Toomey said, adding that this was another plan that would have potentially precluded a positive community use for the Grand Junction Railroad.

“I think the fact that our community has had to fight back against destructive uses of these tracks twice in as many years highlights the urgency of building the rail trail,” said Toomey, referring to a proposal to use unused space next to the Grand Junction railroad tracks to build a mixed-use bike path. “This corridor passes through Kendall Square, where we have seen enormous growth in the numbers of people who bike and walk to work as opposed to driving cars,” Toomey said. “The rail trail would offer a safer place for people to commute and recreate. The demand is already there.”

In a video released Wednesday, which can be found on Toomey’s website, the city councillor describes work he has done to bring the rail trail closer to construction, including his work to include the path in the East Cambridge Open Space Planning Study and secure $500,000 in funding from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“More and more people are realizing just how much sense this project makes,” Toomey said. “Just as we have been successful in opposing problematic proposals in the past, I firmly believe we can be successful if we support the rail trail with the same intensity.”