Seasoned rails-to-trails engineer weighs in

Belfast Council talks rail trail railings, the fewer the better

Wed, 02/04/2015 - 10:30pm

    BELFAST - At post-meeting work session Tuesday, councilors reviewed engineering recommendations for the Passy Rail Trail project. Particularly, they looked at how much guardrail to erect along the 2.3 miles of former railroad corridor between Veteran’s Memorial Bridge and City Point Station.

    Greg Bakos of Concord, NH-based VHB, Inc. attended the session and fielded questions from the Council. The seasoned rail-to-trail engineer, whose resume includes work on the Cross Vermont Trail and trails in New Hampshire, estimated Belfast would need 4,000 lineal feet of some kind of barrier between the 8-10 foot wide path and any dangerous areas nearby.

    The steel tracks were removed from the stretch of the old Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad last fall and the unimproved rail bed is already drawing rave reviews from hikers and cross country skiiers accordin to several councilors. The path will be covered in a fine rock dust in the future, but it will be up to the Council to address the terrain on either side, which from flat wooded areas to high ridges of fill dropping away steeply on either side.

    The former rail tressle that crosses the Passagassawakeag River near City Point was deemed solid last fall and given a temporary platform and railings, but this too will eventually be reworked.

    Beyond improving the walking surface, the Council has held a less-is-more vision for the wilderness trail. On Tuesday, no one argued against railings as long as the trail still felt like a walk in the woods.

    Bakos said he worked backward from fairly stringent trade guidelines, adjusting the proposed amount and placement of railings based on actual conditions along the trail. Whether it was left untouched or fenced in from beginning to end like a cattle stockade would be up to the Council. However Bakos said he was obligated to recommend a certain degree of safety improvements.

    Within this gray area, it was all about much danger awaited a person straying from the trail. 

    Bakos laid out the general idea. A wide, flat shoulder was the best you could hope for. In areas with a drop-off, better that it be a grassy embankment ending on solid ground than a wall of exposed rip-rap abutting a deep part of the river. And so on.

    Cost could also be a factor. Bakos estimated $20 per foot of railing. Councilors raised questions about how easy they would be to install on a rail bed supported by solid rock, or even wooden trestles as Mayor Walter Ash suggested might be present in some sections. Bakos said the best way to know would be to dig test pits along the route in the spring. 

    As the discussion happened outside of a regular meeting, no action was taken by the Council.

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