New Hampshire Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute


Rail Trails - Where Are Our Priorities?
​​By Wayne Wheeler, PE, CSI, CDT

There is a strong possibility that a 6.36-mile abandoned Pan Am right-of-way in Concord and Boscawen will be broken into individual lots and sold off to private parties.

A segment of newly abandoned railroad runs between Back Pond (on the left) and the Morrill Farm Dairy fields
on Horseshoe Island in Concord as seen on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. Rail trail advocates want the state
to purchase the six-mile stretch of rail and convert the tracks into a multi-use trail. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

The Concord-Claremont Line, as shown in Figure 1, was abandoned many years ago.  The State did not exercise its option to buy and preserve the corridor and today , the 7.9-mile section in Concord is broken up into 44 parcels. Friends of the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail are planning and coordinating with private owners and communities to determine the best way to restore or route a workable trail (watch video below). 

Figure 1

The rail trail was presented to the Concord City Council as a project that would not require city funding, although the City would be responsible for maintenance once it was completed, However, the costs of the trail have exceeded current funding and the friends of the trail are working to raise enough capital to fund the project.

The State of New Hampshire, Department of Transportation (NHDOT) has many high priority projects, including rail trails, in its Ten Year Transportation Improvement Plan, but this valuable rail corridor is not one of them.  As shown in the table below, NHDOT many wonderful has rail trail projects planned for each of the next ten years, but theses projects only represent 0.05% of the total $3745.54 million dollars.


The Rail to Trail Conservancy (RTC) states on its website that “From the Massachusetts state line to Lebanon, rail-trail development is booming in New Hampshire. As shown in Figure 2, the Granite State Rail Trail, when complete, will run 115 miles from the Connecticut River to Methuen. Currently, 62 miles of the trail have been completed, with construction projects in Londonderry and planning underway for the Merrimack River Greenway in Concord. In southern New Hampshire, the approximately eight miles of the combined Derry Rail Trail and Windham Rail Trail represent the longest paved section of the Granite State Rail Trail—and the longest section of paved abandoned rail corridor in New Hampshire!

Figure 2

Rail-trails are an important resource for the following reasons:
Traffic Congestion - Biking and walking infrastructure is a solution to local traffic congestion. Pilot studies have proven that people will chose biking and walking over driving for daily trips if the infrastructure is in place. In Minneapolis, Minn., for example, 28 percent of all trips don't rely on a car.  

Building more highways and roads has failed to stem the rise in congestion. Between 1982 and 2011, the number of hours of vehicle delay in urban areas rose 360 percent, even as the number of highway and road miles increased by 61 percent. 2 

Trails provide easy connection to short term destinations like workplaces, schools, open spaces, shopping areas, restaurants, medical centers and transit stops without the need for a car or public transportation. 3

Air Quality -  In July 2011, the Federal Government released mandatory new fuel standards for motor vehicles. By 2016, the average car was to achieve 35.5 miles per gallon and by 2025, 54 miles per gallon. These increases in efficiency will save the owner of a new vehicle $8,200 in fuel costs over the life of the vehicle. Nationally, over the lifetime of the program, over 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions will be eliminated. In spite of federal mandates and state programs, consumers need to continue to implement additional strategies to reduce their use of fossil fuels. 4 

Active transportation (i.e. walking and bicycling), public transportation and carpooling provide the combined benefits of reducing air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, traffic and commuting costs. Active transportation also offers health benefits, and sharing rides by public transit or carpooling offers social and networking opportunities. 5 

Transportation planners, public health advocates and environmental professionals increasingly call for mixed use development, where employment opportunities, amenities, access to goods and services and housing are co-located or connected by safe walking and biking routes and/or public transportation. They consider this a more sustainable option to vehicle-dependent, suburban development. 5
Transportation Patterns - Americans are already beginning to shift away from cars for daily transportation in favor of biking, walking and transit systems. New Hampshire needs to respond in order to attract new residents and businesses. 2 

The younger generation is trending toward driving less.  According to a 2013 report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, “Millennials,” those born between 1983 and 2000, “…are more likely to want to live in urban and walkable neighborhoods and are more open to non-driving forms of transportation than older Americans. They are also the first generation to fully embrace mobile internet-connected technologies, which are rapidly spawning new transportation options. 4
Economic Development - The relationship between trails and economic development has long been acknowledged by communities across the United States: 
  • Fredrick Law Olmsted, the renowned landscape architect, conducted the first economic impact analysis of urban parks on Central Park, finding a strong positive relationship between this new amenity and property values. 2 
  • Over the past several decades, RTC has uncovered evidence of the direct economic impact that rail trails have had on many communities—some in the tens of millions of dollars annually. 2 
  • Trail users spend tourism dollars and impact local economics.
  • Trail users in urban areas spend an average of $383 per year on goods such as bikes, gear and clothing. In urban and suburban areas, a majority of trail users are using the trail at least once or more weekly, and contributing between $4.02 and $16.53 to the economy per trip. 2 
  • A study of the Burlington (Vermont) Bikeway and Island Trail Line found that tourist expenditures associated with the trail were in the range of $1-2.5 million for a five-month period in 2008 (UVM Transportation Research Center).  Trails have also been found to increase property value with recent home buyers ranking proximity to a trail second in importance out of 18 possible neighborhood amenities when shopping for a new home. 3

Crime - Although trail opponents often express fears that a trail will increase crime and cause safety issues, the actual documented impact of trails is that they reduce criminal activity, increase regular monitoring and improve the public safety of previously disused spaces.

Increased resilience for all communities - Cities and regions that provide their residents and businesses with a complete array of convenient, safe travel choices are more resilient to the short-term shocks of natural and human-caused disasters and the stressors of long-term environmental and economic changes. Overlapping multimodal transportation networks, including shared use paths and recreational trails, provide travel options during an emergency evacuation when events can render key roadways impassable. Multimodal networks provide additional travel options during transit maintenance. Robust nonmotorized networks can also help communities to achieve goals to improve their natural environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions; to advance public health by encouraging residents to walk and bicycle for everyday travel; and to boost economic resilience by improving access to a variety of jobs, services, and activities for all residents, from low-income people living in isolated neighborhoods to high-income people seeking urban amenities. 7

Health - Obesity is the most pressing public health crisis of our age, particularly among children. Making walking and biking a regular part of daily activities by providing convenient pathways is one of the most cost-effective ways to combat physical inactivity. Obesity costs America more than $190 billion in reactive healthcare spending each year. Investing in trails helps communities cut their obesity rates. 2 

There’s a higher percentage of trail users over the age of 55 (47 percent) and 65 (18 percent) in rural areas than there are in urban or suburban. No direct links between older Americans and trails can be extrapolated just from the data, but one could conclude that the older generations of survey respondents value their rural trails for recreation and physical activity.2
Accident Rates - Trails and separated pathways not only encourage more biking and walking, they reduce accident rates. 2
No-cost recreational opportunities - Trails connect neighborhoods to local parks and open spaces. 3
Conservation benefits - Trails enhance appreciation for natural resources. 3
Mitigation of Climate Change Impacts - As stated in NHDOT’s Potential Impacts of Climate Change on Transportation Infrastructure, Assessment of Vulnerability and Recommendation of Adaptive Strategies, it is the responsibility of the Division of Aeronautics, Rail and Transit to undertake the following tasks to mitigate climate change impacts:
  • Designated bike lanes: Continue to include design of and designate bike lanes in areas within NHDOT jurisdiction.
  • Coordinate with municipalities / planning commissions for bike lanes consistency on other roadways.
  • Interconnected bike paths: Continue working on path networks until bike paths are connected between towns.
Mark Connors, Vice President of the Derry Rail Trail Alliance, states, “It has been a wonderful 9 years working with a dedicated group of board members to see the trail being completed within Derry.  The trail has truly become a community resource for people of all ages and it has also become the centerpiece of the revitalization of downtown Derry!  I have been impressed with the way our town leaders and the community at large have come together to rally around this project. What we started in 2007 has morphed into an even bigger project – The Granite State Rail Trail – which will run from the NH/MA border in Salem all the way to the NH/VT border in Lebanon!" 6
Knut J. Roalsvig, M.D., Treasurer of the Derry Rail Trail Alliance, states, "I've been in practice in the greater Derry area since 1988. I was the founder and currently the Medical Director of Granite State GI Consultants in Derry. As a physician in town I can appreciate the many health benefits of a paved trail that can be accessed year-round, and see this as a development that can add to the outdoor recreation opportunities and overall quality of life here in town. As this area grows in population and density these tranquil outdoor areas will become even more valuable to us.
We were formerly living in Windham and recently moved to East Derry. We very much enjoyed using the Windham Rail Trail and have seen the immediate success this was to that town, and I would like to see the same happen here in Derry. As an avid bicyclist (member of Granite State Wheelmen), hiker (AMC member) and cross-country skier, I have used the Windham Rail Trail many times when I needed some fresh air and did not have a full day to travel elsewhere." 6
John P. Daley, M.D., Liaison to Londonderry Trailways, grew up in Wisconsin, and has been a family physician at Derry Medical Center for 14 years, residing in Londonderry. He attended college at Harvard, got his medical degree from the University of Wisconsin, and attended residency at Brown University, where he rode his first rail trail along Narragansett Bay. He currently is a partner at Derry Medical Center and also serves on the board of Community Health Services in town. He has been a member of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy for 16 years.

"I predominantly biked to school or work from age 12 to age 28, so I appreciate the benefit of a flat, paved, traffic-free path for getting around town. I discovered the rail trail as a fabulous running path, albeit a little uneven. As an avid biker, runner, and cross-country skier, I believe the rail trail offers limitless recreational opportunities for all ages. As a physician, I believe the rail trail will improve the health of the community, by inducing more people to get out and walk or bike. As a father, I am looking forward to biking with my young children on a hill-free route away from cars. And as a long-time member of Rails-to-Trails, I look forward to making one happen in my own community" 6
  1. Friends of the Merrimack River Greenway
  2. Rail Trail Conservancy (RTC) website
  3. Mascoma River Greenway website
  4. NH Department of Environmental Services website
  5. NH Department of Transportation website
  6. Derry Rail Trail Alliance website
  7. Strategic Agenda for Pedestrian and Bicycle Transportation, USDOT FHA, Sept. 2016