Littleton Independent: Old rail ties in Littleton hit the road

Littleton –

The state has relocated a massive pile of old railroad ties from western Littleton, following complaints that the creosote-soaked wood was producing noxious odors and environmental concerns for a nearby residential neighborhood.

The wood pile-which was estimated as containing anywhere from 25,000 to 30,000 old railroad ties-was recently moved to a storage area at Devens, according to State Senator James Eldridge (D-Acton).

“The MBTA was responsive, but…it did take some time,” he said.

The old ties were stacked near the railroad, Harwood Avenue, and Taylor Street in 2009 as part of a commuter rail improvement project. However, residents from nearby Masonbrook Lane neighborhood began complaining about nuisance odors from the woodpile last August.

The Board of Health got involved shortly thereafter, and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) placed a vapor barrier over most the ties.

Among the neighbors dissatisfied with the railroad woodpile was Masonbrook Lane resident Eric Heine, who launched a website,, earlier this year to draw attention to the issue. He credited the Board of Health and Eldridge with playing key roles in getting the MBTA to take action, saying the neighborhood was glad to see the chemical-soaked wood relocated.

“We didn’t want our kids being exposed to the stuff,” he said. “We’re glad they’ve been removed.”

In the big picture, Eldridge said the ties were removed as part of $250 million state and federal effort to improve commuter rail service on the Fitchburg line, something that’s been in the works for over 10 years.

In the particular case, he said the ties were removed when the MBTA added a second set of rails (also called double tracking), between South Acton and Ayer. Eldridge said the double tracks generally increase the regularly of service and decrease delays, adding there’s already double track on much of the Fitchburg Line, adding t. However, he estimated this improvement project would take another five years to complete.

In an e-mail comment, MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo said relocation of the ties that would not effect the timetable for the track improvements.

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