UNION COUNTY, NJ — If county government accepts a local advocacy group's proposal, unused train lines could be transformed into two walkable, bikeable greenways: one connecting Elizabeth and Cranford and another running from Roselle Park to Summit.

“Greenways and trails are a solution to reducing the number of traffic-related injuries and fatalities while increasing the amount of open space in the community,” said Rails to Trails Union County co-founder Jay Robaina at last Thursday's Union County Board of Commissioners meeting.

Rails to Trails Union County is an advocacy group focused on pedestrian and bicycle safety and converting inactive rail lines into greenways — that is trails — to connect the county’s communities, parks and businesses.

Robaina, a Roselle Park resident, asked commissioners to help the group convert the entire unused CNJ line between Elizabeth and Cranford, which is owned by Conrail/CSX, into a linear greenway. He said the rail line is unsafe and an environmental hazard, but new trails would safely connect downtowns and offer residents access to parks, health services and local businesses.

Rails to Trails proposes a 10-foot wide paved path on both inactive rail lines.

Story continues below video of rail line.

The group also hopes another trail can replace the abandoned Rahway Valley Railroad line which runs through Roselle Park, Kenilworth, Union, Springfield and Summit. 

The county would have to purchase the CNJ line from Conrail/CSX for the project to go forward. The county already has ownership of the Rahway Valley line, which is abandoned property.

“The existing unused rail corridors would let us tie in our urban centers to make our local park system accessible for off-road routes to tens of thousands of residents, in addition to providing safe corridors across the county,” said Robaina. He also said the path can stimulate economic vitality and interest in the county's downtowns and transit hubs.

Robaina added that greenways would benefit people with disabilities, older adults, transit users, school-aged children and residents who lack access to personal transportation.

Commissioner Chairman Alexander Mirabella told Robaina, “I think you’ll find a very receptive ear on this board.”

In a phone interview with TAPinto, Robaina said he was inspired to co-found the group after seeing families use green space for recreation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The need for more walkable and bikeable trails was noticeable, especially in his neighborhood which lacks sidewalks. 

He explained the group envisions the Union County trails to be modeled off the Middlesex Greenway, a 3.5-mile trail in Metuchen, Edison and Woodbridge. 

Robaina started a dialogue with commissioners about the trail proposal in September and told TAPinto they have been supportive. 

While unsure of how long it would take to convert the rail lines into trails, Robaina said it would be a multi-year project. And as it is in the planning stage, the scope of the proposed trail could expand.

“When we originally planned the route last year, it included Cranford into Garwood,” Robaina said. “The old CNJ corridor is wide enough to handle a greenway further out west, which could include Westfield, Scotch-Plains and end in Plainfield, connecting the county from east to west.”

Do you have thoughts on the proposal? Join the discussion on the Rails-To-Trails Union County, NJ Facebook group.

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