SALEM — The trail has seemed endless for a group of local residents working to establish a bicycle and pedestrian path through town.
But next week, the state’s Executive Council is expected to vote on an agreement that could pave the way for the long-awaited, 5.1-mile rail trail in Salem. The project was first proposed more than a decade ago.
That means a historic preservation group, made up of train enthusiasts, can begin removing the old Boston & Maine Railroad tracks, according to David Topham, a member of the Friends of the Salem Bike-Ped Corridor. The group has worked for years to help make the rail trail a reality.
The Nevada-based Iron Horse Preservation Society travels around the country and pulls up old track for free. It funds the work by selling the track and equipment to help restore historic railroads.
The Executive Council will vote on the “salvage agreement” when it meets Aug. 8. The deal has been negotiated in conjunction with the state Department of Transportation and the attorney general’s office, Topham said.
Salem selectmen voted unanimously this spring to authorize Town Manager Keith Hickey to finalize the details with the state. “We are very optimistic,” Topham said yesterday. “As soon as the ink is dry, Salem will have the OK to bring Iron House into town.”
Salem community development director William Scott has said the group would begin removing the track as soon it’s given the word.
Topham said his group hoped the work would start this summer, but it may be delayed until fall. They are trying to raise $30,000 to fund the cost of a required silt barrier, he said. It would prevent silt from contaminating runoff water. “We have had a couple of donors step up, but they are waiting until we have approval,” Topham said.
When the entire project is complete, the rail trail will extend more than 80 miles from Lawrence to Lebanon. Iron Horse removed the old tracks in Methuen this spring, but was forced to halt its work once it reached the state border, Topham said.
The trail also passes through Windham, Derry and Londonderry. The work in Derry is done, it’s near completion in Windham, and just in the planning stages in Londonderry. The project is funded through a $1.27 million federal transportation grant requiring a 20 percent local match.
“The town is basically looking for the funds to come up with the match money,” Topham said. “The money is not coming from the taxpayers.”
Linda Harvey, also a member of the Friends of the Salem Bike-Ped Corridor, has pushed for the project since 1999. She has said she would be glad when work finally begins.
“I will be relieved to see something happening,” Harvey said.