At a meeting in April, Bloomfield Township became the first Township along the old Boonton Line to approve a resolution in favor of the so-called Ice and Iron Rail Trail campaign, with Glen Ridge following suit soon after.
Now it seems Montclair may be poised to approve a similar resolution as well, putting the wheels in motion to transform the old Boonton Line into a pedestrian and cycling trail, running through Montclair, Glen Ridge, Bloomfield, Belleville, and Newark and into Hudson County.
Andrew Strauss, a Trenton-based consultant working with Bloomfield, presented a resolution to the Montclair Township Council for its consideration during a meeting on Tuesday night.
The resolution would express Montclair's resolve in working with neighboring towns on planning and design, and also on the seeking of funding for the rail-trail project.
The resolution also calls for the establishment of an Interlocal Rail-Trail Planning Committee made up of mayoral appointees from Belleville, Bloomfield, Newark Glen Ridge, and Montclair. The committee would meet regularly and serve as a forum for coordinatory municipal, county, state, federal, and regional agency activities.
After the meeting, Montclair Councilor Cary Africk said he was absolutely in favor of pursuing the rails/trails proposal as presented to the council by Bloomfield on Tuesday night.
"For Montclair, though, we have to keep this project in perspective," he said. "Right now we have important business at hand, including a budget, which is now projected not to be complete until late September.
"We have not even looked at our 2010 Capital Budget, and we have numerous positions to fill, including Municipal Judge, Municipal Prosecutor, Town Attorney, Director of Planning, Economic Development, Grants Writer, etc.," Africk said. "I would hope we prioritize what we do in terms of the council, and in terms of the Township support staff that could be called upon, at some time, to assist with the rails/trails project.
"But the proposal is exciting, has attracted excellent people, and should be pursued without hesitation," he said.
It's not clear when a vote on any resolution might take place, but most likely it would come within the next month or two.
Montclair Mayor Jerry Fried has said that this is a good opportunity to use the rail line more effectively.
Ultimately, the idea is to roll out a recreational path from Montclair to Hoboken with an eye towards creating a green alternative for safe commuting between New York City, Jersey City, Newark, and nearby towns.
Richard Webster, legal adviser to the Friends of the Ice and Iron Rail Trail, said that — after obtaining resolutions in support of the project from all the towns — the campaign will meet next with county officials in order to gain their backing.
"The idea is that a recreational trail can co-exist with a single-track rail service as the right-of-way is very large," he said.
When recently asked about funding, Webster said that "there's quite a bit of [grant] money out there to help with the planning of uses for open space and we believe we can make a strong case that this is a very good use of space."
Webster said that it's better for the track to be used than to wind up a wasteland where people gather for nefarious purposes.
Currently, there's only about one freight train that travels on the Essex County portion of the line each week. The line is owned by Virginia-based freight company Norfolk Southern, which has expressed no interest in converting its property for recreational uses. Norfolk officials say they expect to see an uptick in freight services in the next two decades.
But Webster said he hopes that "people power" will change the company's mind.
"We believe we can make a very strong case and that we can get Norfolk Southern to sell probably within a year or two," he said. "Once people understand that a rail service can co-exist with a rail trail there's generally little opposition to the idea."