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Ashland, Framingham, Mass., officials air concerns about rail purchase

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February 14, 2001 State and town officials from Ashland and Framingham, Mass., met with the state's new transportation chief last night for a conversation about the state's purchase of CSX Transportation rail lines and what can be done to ensure that increased rail traffic won't further cripple their downtowns, MetroWest Daily News reports.

"We have been in and
around these issues of grade crossings and freight movements in Ashland and
Framingham for quite a while," said Jeff Mullan, who began his new job as
secretary of the newly consolidated Department of Transportation at the
beginning of the month. Mullan previously served as the executive director of
the Turnpike Authority, which was rolled into the DOT during the consolidation.

Also attending the
meeting were state Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, who organized the meeting,
state Rep. Tom Sannicandro, D-Ashland, and selectmen and town managers from
both towns.

Mullan said negotiations
on the $100-million deal between the state and rail giant CSX Corp. are
progressing, and he expects the state to take control of the Fall River/New
Bedford and Allston-to-Boston lines by May 15. The next step of the deal, he
said, would be to try to relocate the Beacon Park Freight Yard in Allston to
central Massachusetts, which would reduce the number of freight trains rolling
through MetroWest.

Eventually, the state
will take control of the Framingham-to-Worcester line, Mullan said. While the
state aims to run more commuter trains, state officials will be more receptive
to the needs of individual towns.

"We can control our
destiny in places we own the track. We can’t where we don’t," he said.
"I want to get a dialogue going about your concerns and about the extent
of your concerns."

While the nine at-grade
crossings in Framingham cause more problems in the heavily populated downtown
area than the two in Ashland, Sannicandro said the two towns face many of the
same issues.

"Framingham has been
struggling with this problem for 100 years," he said. "Ashland hasn’t
grown as fast, but eventually the problem in Framingham will become the problem
in Ashland."

Ashland Town Manager John
Petrin said the three imperative issues that need to be addressed in the town
are public safety, public health and economic development.

The public safety aspect
relates to the inability of fire and police vehicles to respond during
emergencies, he said.

"When any train
comes through, it cuts this town in half," he said. "Some freight
trains take 15 minutes."

The issue is similar in
Framingham, where downtown street traffic is blocked due to train crossings for
an average of two-and-a-half hours every day, said Town Manager Julian Suso.

Officials from both towns
also agreed that frequent railroad crossings are not only threatening the
health of their residents, but the health of their economies as well.

"Framingham is
choking," said Selectman Laurie Lee. "Nobody is coming downtown, and
our economy is dying. Framingham is dependent on economic development. We are
the engine for this region, which is the second largest engine for the
state," she said. "The downtown will not survive if we don’t develop
it."

While not the most
cost-efficient solution, the two towns agreed that, in an ideal world, they
would have the tracks sunk or partially sunk to free up their respective
downtowns and eliminate safety concerns

Mullan said he would be
meeting this morning with Lisa Mancini, vice president of strategic
infrastructure initiatives at CSXT, and he would pass on the sentiments of the
town officials. He also encouraged the towns to complete studies to examine
problems created by train crossings and draft possible solutions.

Ashland, through a
$500,000 grant from the state, has begun a study of the downtown area.
Framingham is awaiting funding so it can begin a second leg of its study, which
will examine the downtown railway corridor.

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