Watertown Branch Railroad

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Entrance to the Watertown Greenway, a bike trail along a portion of the Watertown Branch Railroad Watertowngreenway.agr.jpg
Entrance to the Watertown Greenway, a bike trail along a portion of the Watertown Branch Railroad
Map of the Watertown Branch Railroad in 1852. The Greenway will follow the route from Fresh Pond to the Arsenal area. WatertownBranchRRmap1852.png
Map of the Watertown Branch Railroad in 1852. The Greenway will follow the route from Fresh Pond to the Arsenal area.

The Watertown Branch Railroad was a branch loop of the Fitchburg Railroad that was meant to serve the town of Watertown and the City of Waltham, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, as an independent short line railroad; it also serviced the Watertown Arsenal. The line has been formally abandoned and portions are being converted into a rail trail, the Watertown-Cambridge Greenway. A section from School Street to Arlington Street in Watertown has been completed. A small portion in Waltham has been converted into a park called Chemistry Station Park after the railroad station once located there. Construction of an extension to Fresh Pond Reservation in Cambridge began in the summer of 2018 and is expected to be completed in June 2020.

Fitchburg Railroad transport company

The Fitchburg Railroad is a former railroad company, which built a railroad line across northern Massachusetts, United States, leading to and through the Hoosac Tunnel. The Fitchburg was leased to the Boston and Maine Railroad in 1900. The main line from Boston to Fitchburg is now operated as the MBTA Fitchburg Line; Pan Am Railways runs freight service on some other portions.

Watertown, Massachusetts City in Massachusetts, United States

Watertown is a city in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, and is part of the Greater Boston area. The population was 31,915 in the 2010 census. Its neighborhoods include Bemis, Coolidge Square, East Watertown, Watertown Square, and the West End. It is one of thirteen Massachusetts municipalities that retain the title of “town” while functioning under state law as cities.

Waltham, Massachusetts City in Massachusetts, United States

Waltham is a city in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States, and was an early center for the labor movement as well as a major contributor to the American Industrial Revolution. The original home of the Boston Manufacturing Company, the city was a prototype for 19th century industrial city planning, spawning what became known as the Waltham-Lowell system of labor and production. The city is now a center for research and higher education, home to Brandeis University and Bentley University. The population was 60,636 at the census in 2010.



Building at 259 Mount Auburn Street, believed to be an original Watertown Branch station Building at 259 Mount Auburn Street in Cambridge, MA.jpg
Building at 259 Mount Auburn Street, believed to be an original Watertown Branch station

The railroad was chartered in 1846 and a second company, the Waltham and Watertown Railroad, was chartered to extend the line to the neighborhood just southeast of downtown Waltham, Massachusetts. In order to keep it out of the hands of its rivals, the Fitchburg took control of both companies before any track was laid and merged them into the Watertown Branch.

Construction began from West Cambridge [1] in 1847 and was completed to Bemis two years later. In the Fresh Pond area it paralleled the existing Charlestown Branch Railroad which was used to haul ice. [2] By 1851 it reached the Fitchburg's main line at the downtown Waltham station and the branch served as the main passenger line between Boston and Waltham. It was one of the few branch lines to be double tracked, as the line saw quite heavy traffic, especially in the 1880s and 1890s. The Boston and Maine Railroad took over the Fitchburg in 1900.

Fresh Pond (Cambridge, Massachusetts) human settlement in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America

Fresh Pond is a reservoir and park in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Prior to the Pond's use exclusively as a reservoir, its ice had been harvested by Boston's "Ice King", Frederic Tudor, and others, for shipment to North American cities and to tropical areas around the world.

Boston State capital of Massachusetts, U.S.

Boston is the capital and most populous city of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the United States, as well as the 21st most populous city in the United States. The city proper covers 48 square miles (124 km2) with an estimated population of 694,583 in 2018, making it also the most populous city in New England. Boston is the seat of Suffolk County as well, although the county government was disbanded on July 1, 1999. The city is the economic and cultural anchor of a substantially larger metropolitan area known as Greater Boston, a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) home to a census-estimated 4.8 million people in 2016 and ranking as the tenth-largest such area in the country. As a combined statistical area (CSA), this wider commuting region is home to some 8.2 million people, making it the sixth most populous in the United States.

Competition from streetcars and automobiles cut heavily into inner-suburb passenger traffic. Minor stations were closed, including East Watertown in 1932. [3] Passenger service on the line ended in 1938 and the second track was removed by early 1940. The middle section of the line from the Waltham/Watertown line through Watertown Square to East Watertown was abandoned in 1960. This split the branch line in two, but traffic continued on both sides through the remainder of the 20th century. In 1991, about a half mile of track was abandoned on the west side of the line at Bemis, and the remainder of the line back to Waltham was abandoned in 2000.

On October 5, 2011, the Surface Transportation Board agreed to allow Pan Am Railways to abandon the final active 1.72 miles of the Watertown Branch from Newly Weds Foods in Watertown to the branch's junction with the Fitchburg Line between Sherman Street and Alewife in Cambridge. No freight had been carried for at least two years. [4] As of May 2013, all but the approximately half-mile portion between Concord Avenue and the Fitchburg Line was in public hands.

Surface Transportation Board Independent agency of the United States federal government

The Surface Transportation Board (STB) of the United States is a federal, bipartisan, independent adjudicatory board. The STB was established in 1996 to assume some of the regulatory functions that had been administered by the Interstate Commerce Commission when the ICC was abolished. Other ICC regulatory functions were either eliminated or transferred to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration or to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics within DOT.

Pan Am Railways American transportation company

Pan Am Railways, Inc. (PAR), known before March 2006 as Guilford Rail System, is an American holding company that owns and operates Class II regional railroads covering northern New England from Mattawamkeag, Maine, to Rotterdam Junction, New York. The primary subsidiaries of Pan Am Railways are Boston and Maine Corporation, Maine Central Railroad Company, Portland Terminal Company, and Springfield Terminal Railway Company.

Fitchburg Line branch of the MBTA Commuter Rail

The Fitchburg Line is a branch of the MBTA Commuter Rail system which runs from Boston's North Station to Wachusett station in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. The line is along the tracks of the former Fitchburg Railroad, which was built across northern Massachusetts, United States, in the 1840s. It is one of the MBTA's more scenic commuter rail lines, passing by Walden Pond between Lincoln and Concord. Weekend service includes a specially equipped seasonal "ski train" to Wachusett Mountain during the winter.

Watertown-Cambridge Greenway

The Watertown-Cambridge Greenway right-of-way cleared of overgrowth in August 2018. Mt. Auburn Street passes overhead. Watertown Cambridge Greenway ROW cleared 818.agr.jpg
The Watertown-Cambridge Greenway right-of-way cleared of overgrowth in August 2018. Mt. Auburn Street passes overhead.

State and local [5] [6] collaboration has been ongoing for transformation of the rail corridor into a rail trail, [7] once known as the Charles River/Alewife Connector, [8] now called the Watertown-Cambridge Greenway. The condition of the tracks at that time was deemed so poor that trains traveling at a mere 3 miles per hour (4.8 km/h) could derail. [9]

Rail trail railroad bed converted to a recreational trail

A rail trail is the conversion of a disused railway track into a multi-use path, typically for walking, cycling and sometimes horse riding and snowmobiling. The characteristics of abandoned railways—flat, long, frequently running through historical areas—are appealing for various developments. The term sometimes also covers trails running alongside working railways; these are called "rails with trails". Some shared trails are segregated, with the segregation achieved with or without separation. Many rail trails are long-distance trails.

In 1999, the Executive Office of Transportation purchased segments of the right-of-way from Guilford Transportation. [10] This trail segment was later transferred administratively to the MDC, currently known as the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). [11]

On the east side of the branch, service was only to one customer, Newly Weds Foods, until service ended in 2007. [12] The entire branch was then abandoned and out of service. [11] Litter and downed trees were prevalent on the Fresh Pond–Watertown portion of the track before path construction began.

On May 22, 2013 the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and the City of Cambridge announced their acquisition of major portions of the remaining abandoned right-of-way from the railroad for $1.3 million plus an additional, unspecified amount from Cambridge, allowing completion of the Watertown-Cambridge Greenway. The DCR acquired the portion south of Huron Avenue, while the City of Cambridge now owns the right-of-way north to Concord Avenue. [13]

In 2015, the DCR obtained $180,000 to fund design of the remaining greenway section, half from private donations. Public meetings were held on June 9 and November 30, the latter to present a 25% design for the greenway. [14] [15] A 75% design presentation was held on June 2, 2016. [16] Funding of $3.6 million was approved by the Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) in June 2017, with construction projected to start in Fall 2017 or Spring 2018. [17]

The project was advertised for bids in September 2017 and bids were opened in March 2018. As of June, final design was complete. Construction started in late summer. [18] The estimated cost is $3.182 million. [19] As of mid-August 2018, the right-of-way had been cleared of most accumulated overgrowth and surveying work had begun. As of mid-October, track had been largely removed and several dozen trees with diameter greater than 6 inches were being removed due to poor health, safety concerns or construction conflicts. A formal Ground Breaking Event was held on December 5. [18]


The path construction process has moved faster in Watertown than in Cambridge. [9]



The line begins in North Cambridge west of the Sherman Street at-grade crossing. The branch line proceeds west, and then south, where it has at-grade crossings at New Street, Concord Avenue, and the entrance road to the Walter J. Sullivan Water Treatment Facility at the Fresh Pond reservoir. From there, the line proceeds to several underpasses, namely one below a second road into the Fresh Pond reservation, one at Huron Avenue, and one at Mount Auburn Street, where it then crosses the town boundary of Watertown.

East Watertown

U.S. Army plans, highlighting sidings (top right) of the rail line at the Watertown Arsenal, ca. 1919 Watertown Arsenal (Watertown, MA) - Olmsted landscaping plan.jpg
U.S. Army plans, highlighting sidings (top right) of the rail line at the Watertown Arsenal, ca. 1919

The line crosses Cottage Street at grade and Grove Street below grade. Further at-grade crossings were at School Street and at Mount Auburn Street just outside Watertown Square.

West Watertown to Waltham

The western portion of the branch continued past the Town Hall area, then headed southwest toward Main and Pleasant Streets (near Bacon and Howard Streets) and across Bridge Street in the Bemis Neighborhood of Watertown. Although much of the area has been built over, from there the line ran adjacent to Pleasant Street through what are now mainly parking lot areas, through the Quincy Cold Storage property (now Repton Place) on Pleasant Street, through the former Raytheon property in Waltham, and across River Street near Willow Street, before crossing the Charles River near the Bleachery Dam. [20] The trestle for that crossing, approximately 140 years old, was dismantled and removed in August 2016. The line then crossed Calvary Street, then Newton Street, and proceeded across Pine Street before heading northwest, where it re-crossed the Charles, parallel to Elm Street. It then reached the Central Square area, and looped back into the Fitchburg Railroad main line. [21] [22]


Phase I of the Watertown-Cambridge Greenway connects School Street to Arlington Street, in Watertown, with a branch to the Arsenal Mall. Phase II will connect with Phase I at Arlington Street and continue just past the Walter J. Sullivan Water Treatment Facility where it will connect with the existing Fresh Pond Trail. [16] Planned renovations at the Arsenal Mall are expected to include a connection to the Charles River Bike Path. A several-block completed section of the proposed Watertown Community Path proceeds west along Arsenal street from School Street. [23]

See also


  1. The area where the Watertown tracks branched off the Fitchburg main line is now considered part of North Cambridge and Alewife, and differs from the neighborhood called West Cambridge today. It was also distinct from the nearby town of West Cambridge, renamed Arlington in 1867.
  2. Fresh Pond Reservation Master Plan - 4 - The Ecological and Social History of Fresh Pond Reservation
  3. "B. & M. is granted right to abandon four stations". Boston Daily Globe. June 25, 1932. p. 2 via Newspapers.com. Open Access logo PLoS transparent.svg
  4. SURFACE TRANSPORTATION BOARD DECISION Docket No. AB 32 (Sub-No. 103X) BOSTON AND MAINE CORPORATION–ABANDONMENT EXEMPTION–MIDDLESEX COUNTY, MASS. Retrieved 2012-05-02. Note incorrect references to "Waterloo" branch and "BNSF"
  5. Williams, Lisa (1998-12-29). "Watertown Branch Rail Trail Status, December 1998". Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition. Archived from the original (1998-12-29) on March 14, 2009. Retrieved 2009-08-10.
  6. Howe, Peter (2007-10-08). "A look at several rail trail projects underway across the state, from west to east" (2007-10-08). Boston Globe . Retrieved 2009-08-09.
  7. Mink, Doug (2006-05-15). "Future Metro Boston Bikeways and Trails: Watertown Branch Rail Trail". Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition. Archived from the original (2006-05-15) on August 8, 2009. Retrieved 2009-08-09.
  8. 1 2 http://www.eot.state.ma.us/massdotnewsletter/vol17.htm
  9. 1 2 "Watertown Bicycle & Pedestrian Committee - powerpoint presentation". Watertown Bicycle & Pedestrian Committee. 2009-04-24. pp. Pg. 26. Archived from the original (2009-14-24) on 2011-07-18. Retrieved 2009-08-09.
  10. "Trans Report: EOTC Secures Right of Way for Future Trail" (PDF). Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization (BMPO). 2001-01-01. pp. Pg. 3. Archived from the original (2001-01-01) on September 18, 2010. Retrieved 2009-08-08.
  11. 1 2 Estin, Paul (2003-11-25). "The Watertown Branch Trail - Grove St. to Fresh Pond" (2003-11-25). Paul Estin. Retrieved 2009-08-08.
  12. Potter, Katherine (10 May 2005). "Watertown Branch Environmental/Historical Report" (PDF). Surface Transportation Board (STB) Docket AB 32 (Sub No. 98X) and AB 355 (Sub No. 32X). United States Department of Transportation. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 May 2006.
  13. Major Greenways Link for Watertown-Cambridge Greenway Acquired
  14. "DCR Public Meeting" (PDF). Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. 9 June 2015.
  15. "DCR Public Meeting – 25% Design" (PDF). Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. 30 November 2015.
  16. 1 2 3 "DCR Public Meeting – 75% Design" (PDF). Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. 2 June 2016.
  17. 1 2 "Watertown Greenway Phase II secures funding, could open next summer". WickedLocal. 20 June 2017.
  18. 1 2 3 4 Watertown Cambridge Greenway, City of Cambridge, Community Development Department
  19. Watertown-Cambridge Greenway Phase II RFP
  20. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-06-03. Retrieved 2011-06-12.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  21. FutureMBTA.com: 5. Harvard to Waltham via Watertown, proposals for new Red Line branches by FutureMBTA.com
  22. FutureMBTA.com map of the proposed red line routes (with #5 and #6 highlighting the old Watertown Branch line)
  23. Carter, Kristopher; Giambrone, Eric; Kim, Eunice; Moon, Michelle; Tommee, Jong Wai (May 2010). "Watertown Community Path Planning Report". Tufts University Urban + Environmental Policy + Planning.

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