|Air Line State Park Trail|
|Location||Connecticut, United States|
|Area||40 acres (16 ha)|
|Governing body||Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection|
|Website||Air Line State Park Trail|
The Air Line State Park Trail is a rail trail and linear state park located in Connecticut. The trail is divided into sections designated South (25 miles: East Hampton to Windham), North (21 miles: Windham to Putnam) a piece of the East Coast Greenway, and the Thompson addition (6.6 miles: Thompson to the Massachusetts state line). An additional 3.6 mile spur to Colchester is sometimes designated as part of the Air Line trail. At the Massachusetts state line, the trail connects to the Southern New England Trunkline Trail, a 22 mile long trail to Franklin, MA built on the same right-of-way. Since 2018, the town of Portland, CT has also maintained a 2.3 mile portion of the Airline Trail, connecting to the southern end of the state park at the town line with East Hampton.
Envisioned as a high speed passenger railroad line from New York to Boston, the New Haven, Middletown and Willimantic Railroad (NHM&W) got its name from the towering iron viaducts constructed to create a level track bed suitable for rapid travel. Opened in 1873 as part of the Boston, Hartford and Erie Railroad (BH&E) system, it ran from New Haven northeast via Middletown to the BH&E at Willimantic. The BH&E went bankrupt that same year, becoming the New York and New England Railroad (NY&NE), but the NHM&W stayed separate, failing in 1875. It was reorganized as the Boston and New York Air-Line Railroad and was operated by the New Haven from 1879, being leased on October 1, 1882. Part of this line (the NY&NE Blackstone division to Franklin via Norwood and Walpole) still survives as the Franklin Branch of the MBTA/MBCR.
In Connecticut, part of the line from New Haven (Air Line Jct) to Middletown and Portland, Connecticut survives as part of the Providence and Worcester Railroad. In Willimantic, the Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum has reconstructed the original roundhouse and restored the turntable pit (with a replacement for the original turntable), as well as some original NY&NE and NH buildings. In between East Hampton, Connecticut and the Massachusetts state line, most of the abandoned rail corridor has been converted as a rail trail known as the Air Line Trail State Park. Notable features of the line are the Rapallo Viaduct and the Lyman Viaduct in East Hampton and Colchester, Connecticut, which are two of the longest rail viaducts in the U.S.
The abandoned rail corridor between East Hampton and the Massachusetts state line was acquired by the Connecticut State Park System with the section from Route 66 in Windham to US Route 44 in Pomfret opening to the public in 1969 as a bridle trail. In 1976, the trail designation was extended north to Town Farm Road in Putnam. The southern section from East Hampton to Willimantic was opened as a trail in 1986. The Thompson section was opened in 1992. The bridge over the Willimantic River to Bridge St. was opened in 2015.
Air Line State Park Trail is divided into three sections:
- South section (from Aldens Crossing in East Hampton to Bridge Street in Windham, with a connection to Columbia Avenue)
- North section (from Milk Street in Windham to Kennedy Drive in Putnam)
- Thompson section (from Route 12 (Riverside Drive) in Thompson to the MA state line)
The North section of the trail from Windham to Putnam is part of the East Coast Greenway, which will stretch from Florida to Maine.
The South and North sections are connected by the Veterans Greenway, a short town-owned rail trail on the northeast side of Willimantic, which is partially incorporated into the North section itself. The connection is not complete, as no trail connection has yet to be made through downtown Willimantic from the bridge to the Veterans Greenway. However a street connection is available joining the two sections by going onto Bridge Street for 250 feet, then turning right onto Main Street for 0.5 miles then turning left on Jackson St. for 150 feet then turning right on Union St. 50 feet.
The trail as originally built ended next to a cranberry bog at Smith Street, east of the village center of East Hampton. The right of way remained intact and unused as far as the end of active track in Portland; some sections were used for unofficial trails with poor trail surface and frequent washouts.
In 1999, a bridge over Muddy Gutter Brook west of downtown East Hampton was designed and built by cadets of the United States Coast Guard Academy under the supervision of William O'Neill, an adjunct professor of engineering at the academy and former state governor. Due to confusion as to which state agency had ownership of the stretch of land, the bridge was built without the necessary permissions; it was almost demolished, but allowed to remain due to a lease agreement with the town. On November 1, 2002, the state DEEP acquired an additional section of railbed in East Hampton from ConnDOT; however, the trail was not actually improved over the section.
In 2011, a 0.5-mile (0.80 km) extension from Smith Street to Watrous Street was completed. A further 0.1-mile (0.16 km) section (including a bridge over the Pocotopaug Creek) was completed in June 2012, bringing the trail to Main Street in downtown East Hampton. During construction, the original railroad bridge was found to have been buried in the embankment next to the right of way, forcing design changes to the trail.
Around that time, East Hampton and Portland began planning to extend the trail to downtown Portland, which would additionally provide a connection to Middletown over the Arrigoni Bridge. In January 2015, East Hampton received a $400,000 grant for Phase I, running 1.7 miles (2.7 km) from Main Street to Aldens Crossing; that section opened in 2017. A second $538,000 state grant, awarded in March 2016, funded the 1.5-mile (2.4 km) Phase II from Aldens Crossing to the town line at Depot Hill Road. Work on Phase II began in 2017. As of January 2019[update], phase II was complete except for a 1,500 feet (460 m) section through protected wetlands, which may require a boardwalk.
In June 2018, Phase I of the town-maintained portion of the trail in Portland, CT opened to the public, extending from the East Hampton town line to the YCMA Camp Ingersoll, a distance of 2.3 miles (3.7 km). Unlike the rest of the trail, the 2.3 mile right-of-way in Portland is owned by Eversource Energy
In December 2015, the town approved an agreement with Eversource to allow the construction of a recreational trail on their property; a formal signing took place on January 20, 2016. On March 2, 2016, town voters approved the $172,000 acquisition of a 22-acre (8.9 ha) former quarry Middle Haddam Road to serve as the trailhead; this served as the 20% local match for potential state funding. An existing quarter-mile access road to the quarry leads north from the trailhead parking area to the rail trail. Later that month, the extension was allocated $686,000 in the same round of grants that funded the East Hampton Phase II. The section was originally expected to open around April 2017; several delays ultimately resulted in an October 2018 opening.
Further phases in Portland are planned but not yet funded. Phase II will reach downtown Portland and the Arrigoni bridge, largely over the original rail route but with some deviations parallel to roads. It may also include a trail parallel to the active P&W tracks in Portland, and the purchase of the former train station. Following abandonment by the railroad in the 1960s, the remainder of the original Airline right-of-way in Portland reverted to private ownership by adjacent landowners, and would need to be leased or acquired by the town prior to construction of Phase II. Phase III will attempt to create a trail north parallel to the Connecticut River to reach Riverfront Park, the fairgrounds, and ultimately Glastonbury.
This section of the trail has been completed. It has a smooth, hard-packed stone dust surface, benches for resting at more scenic locations, and bike racks. Brand new bridges constructed by cadets from the US Coast Guard Academy carry the trail across the Blackledge and Jeremy Rivers and Judd Brook. This section crosses the Rapallo and Lyman Viaducts, massive fills that carried the railroad and now trail across wide valleys. There is a short (less than 1⁄4 mile (400 m)) on-road detour necessary where the Route 2 expressway blocks the railroad bed.
Willimantic River to Bridge St. (CT 32)
This section has a wooden plank crossing over the Willimantic River, using the old bridge as support, then shortly after that it becomes pavement and intersects with the end of the Hop River Trail and has an info sign describing the history of both of the trails. Then it takes a s-turn next to the Eastern Connecticut Railroad History Museum. Then the trail follows the driveway of the building leading up to the trailhead, just 900 ft. away from Bridge St. This section can be very loud at times due to being less than 100 ft. away from the Providence and Worcester Railroad, an active freight railroad with a stop in Willimantic.
The trail crosses the following roads, providing access:
|Middlesex||East Hampton||Route 196, Main Street||municipal parking area, railroad bridge|
|Smith Street||parking area|
|New London||Colchester||Bull Hill Road||parking area|
|River Road||parking area; railroad bridge|
|Route 149||parking area|
|Tolland||Hebron||On road: under Route 2 via Route 149|
|Old Hartford Road||parking area|
|Jeremy River||river crossing|
|Grayville Road||parking area|
|Old Colchester Road||parking area|
|Route 85||parking area|
|North Pond Road|
|Route 207||parking area|
|New London||Lebanon||Leonard Bridge Road||parking area|
|Chesbro Bridge Road||parking area|
|New London||Lebanon||Cook Hill Road||parking area|
|Village Hill Road||parking area|
|Kingsley Road||parking area|
|County Line||Town Line||Willimantic River||river crossing|
|Windham||Windham||Paved Section begins|
|Hop River State Park Trail||leads to Bolton and|
|Bridge Street ( CT 32)||Opened in 2015, parking area|
Though open to the public for its entire length, different segments of the trail are in different stages of development. Some sections are complete and have a finished, stone-dust surface and signage. Other sections have been cleared and had drainage work done, but still have a somewhat rough, unfinished surface that is not suitable for road bikes. Other parts are totally undeveloped and overgrown.
There are no major obstructions of the North section of the trail in the form of missing or unsafe bridges. Though some parts of the trail may be undeveloped, this area does not have the many river crossings of the southern section.
The trail continues west of Route 66 as the Veterans Greenway, a town-owned bike route that leads to downtown Willimantic.
Route 66, Windham to South Brook Road, Hampton
This section has seen many upgrades in recent years. The section's first 1⁄4 mile (400 m) was paved as part of the US 6/Route 66 interchange reconstruction project. The state and the towns of Windham and Chaplin cleared, graded, installed signage and put down a smooth stone-dust surface on this section of the trail. This included the construction of a trail bridge over Boulevard Road.
South Brook Road, Hampton to Lewis Road, Hampton
This section was cleared and graded by the National Guard in the mid-1990s. The surface was not finished and is still rough in sections and there are drainage issues in areas that sometimes flood the trail. There has not been much maintenance done on the trail in the last few years, so even the areas that were cleared have become somewhat grown in. Still, the trail is passable for hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers. The town of Hampton and the DEEP have plans to add signage and finish the surface of the trail with stone dust. This work has not yet been started. An abandoned overpass which formerly carried Parker Road over the line collapsed in May 2016; the trail section was briefly closed during cleanup.
Lewis Road, Hampton to Wrights Crossing Road, Pomfret
This section is under construction by the DEEP, DOT and town of Pomfret[when?]. The stretch from Lewis Road to Covell Road is currently being worked on to improve drainage and finish the surface. The trail is completed between Covell Road and Route 169, with smooth stone-dust surface. The section from Route 169 to Wrights Crossing Road is essentially complete, with some drainage improvements planned.
Wrights Crossing Road, Pomfret to Kennedy Drive, Putnam
This section of trail is completely undeveloped. It has not been cleared and is overgrown, with a rough surface, tree falls, and several wet areas with drainage problems. It is necessary to climb embankments to cross some roads where former bridges have been filled in. It is not really passable, and must be done on foot if attempted. The DEEP and the towns of Pomfret and Putnam have plans to clear and improve this section as part of the next phase of trail improvements. Currently a DOT state hired contractor is improving this section, with a budget of $5.5 million. Two pedestrian bridges are proposed: a 100-foot span over Routes 169 and 44 at the old train depot and another on Needles Eye Road near the Audubon Center. Three box culverts on Holmes Road, Modock Road and River Road are also proposed. Estimated completion is Fall 2020.
The trail crosses the following roads, providing access:
|Milk Street||parking area|
|Natchaug River||river crossing|
|Next to road: Tuckie Road||No junction|
|End of the Veterans' Memorial Greenway (improved section begins)|
|Tolland||Chaplin||Chewink Road||parking area|
|Windham||Hampton||South Brook Street||Shared Intersection|
|US Route 6||Overpass - no connection|
|Little River||river crossing|
|Kenyon Road||parking area|
|US Route 44||underpass/no access|
|Babbitt Hill Road|
|Route 169 /||parking area|
|Needles Eye Road|
|Wright's Crossing Road|
|Unimproved Section begins|
|Town Farm Road|
|Quinebaug River||river crossing|
This section needs to be updated.(December 2016)
Entire Section: Major work is underway to upgrade this section of trail[when?]. The rails and ties have been removed, and the surface of the trail is being graded and having drainage improved. Surface of the trail when complete will be hard packed dirt and gravel. The trail is generally clear of major obstructions, save for one missing bridge over a creek[where?] that requires a short detour on a parallel single track trail. New parking areas with signage and information kiosks have been constructed where the trail crosses East Thompson Road, Sand Dam Road, Lowell Davis Road, and the trail terminus at Route 12. Work[clarification needed] still underway includes improvements of the Route 193 crossing[when?].
As of 2017 the trail is unimproved north of Lowell Davis Road.
The trail crosses the following roads, providing access:
|Windham||Thompson||Route 193||Terminus (south of Thompson center)|
|Exit 49 ramps||Bridge over ramps - no connection|
|Route 200||Overpass - no connection|
|Sunset Hill Road|
|Lowell Davis Road|
|Interstate 395||Overpass - no connection|
|Route 193||Overpass - no connection (north of Thompson center)|
|Sand Dam Road|
|East Thompson Road||Connection with Southern New England Trunkline Trai|
The 3.6-mile (5.8 km) spur to Colchester consists of the same hard-packed gravel as the rest of the South section. The Route 85 crossing is at a marked crosswalk, while the two other crossings are unmarked over minor local roads. The trail terminates just east of downtown Colchester at the former depot and freight house.
The trail crosses the following roads, providing access:
|New London||Colchester||Old Amston Road|
- "Air Line State Park Trail". State Parks and Forests. Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Retrieved 2013-02-05.
- "Portland's 2.3-mile portion of Air Line Trail to open Sunday". The Middletown Press. June 1, 2018. Retrieved March 3, 2018.
- Associated Press (June 11, 2002). "New Recreation Trails Designated in 16 States". The Cincinnati Post (Cincinnati, OH). Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved 29 July 2014.
- Dale Karr, Ronald (1989). Lost Railroads of New England. Branch Line Press. ISBN 0-942147-04-9.
- "Portland Air Line Trail Update: March 2016" (PDF). Air Line Trail Steering Committee, Town of Portland. March 2016. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-08-27. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
- Byron, Ken (May 13, 1999). "Plan Expected to Save Trail Bridge". Hartford Courant. p. B1.
- "2013 Connecticut Rail Transportation Ownership and Service" (PDF). Connecticut Department of Transportation. August 2013. Retrieved August 19, 2016.
- Anusewicz, Joshua (June 29, 2012). "East Hampton Trail Extension Opens This Weekend" (PDF). Rivereast News Bulletin.
- Marteka, Peter (February 7, 2016). "Portland, Windham Filling Gaps Along The Air Line Trail". Hartford Courant. Retrieved August 19, 2016.
- "Ziobron Applauds Grant Awarded To Air Line Trail State Park, $400,000.00 in Funds to be used for a Western Extension" (Press release). Connecticut House Republican Office. January 28, 2015. Archived from the original on 2016-09-15. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
- Marteka, Peter (April 25, 2015). "A Soggy Journey Along The Old Air Line Railroad". Hartford Courant. Retrieved August 19, 2016.
- Marteka, Peter (19 March 2017). "Charter Oak Greenway, Air Line Projects Nearing Completion". Hartford Courant. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
- Regan, Elizabeth (April 1, 2016). "State Awards $1.3 Million for Air Line Trail in Portland" (PDF). Rivereast News Bulletin.
- Mill, Jeff (January 7, 2019). "Portland's connection to 26-mile Airline Trail beginning to take shape". Middletown Press.
- Shafer, John; Rhodes, Deanna; Haramut, Robert. "Bringing the Air Line Trail to Portland (And Middletown)" (PDF). Town of Portland. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-08-27. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
- Hogan, Kevin (24 March 2017). "Bike trail to open between Portland and East Hampton". Retrieved 5 September 2017.
- Courant, Hartford. "Portland, Windham Filling Gaps Along The Air Line Trail". Retrieved 2016-08-02.
- "Colchester Spur Trail". Bike It or Hike It. April 2008. Archived from the original on 28 January 2015. Retrieved 23 June 2013.
- Air Line State Park Trail Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection
- The Air Line Trail: Guide & Map for the Towns of East Hampton, Colchester, Hebron and Lebanon East Hampton Parks & Recreation
- Airline Rail Trail RailsToTrails.us: Bike Trails Created from Abandoned Railroad Lines
- Air Line Rail Trail history and photo resource