State to secure purchase rights for former rail line to create Essex–Hudson Greenway

Photo Courtesy of Open Space Institute
The rail tracks above are poised to become part of the Essex–Hudson Greenway, a 9-mile linear park connecting eight municipalities.

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — After decades of local advocacy and outreach and more than three years of direct negotiations, the Essex–Hudson Greenway Coalition announced Nov. 12 that the state of New Jersey will secure purchase rights to nearly 9 miles of former railway, spanning two counties and eight municipalities in one of the most highly populated regions of northern New Jersey. 

Under the agreement, announced by Gov. Phil Murphy, the state of New Jersey will purchase 135 acres of the former Boonton rail line from Norfolk Southern Railway for $65 million, a price negotiated by OSI as part of a formal purchase agreement announced in July 2020. 

The Essex–Hudson Greenway Coalition — comprising the Open Space Institute, the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition, and September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance — has been advocating for the project, which will create a green space that will provide walkers, runners, cyclists, hikers and others with a linear park and multi-use trail connecting Montclair, Glen Ridge, Bloomfield, Belleville, Newark, Kearny, Secaucus and Jersey City.

“Today’s announcement by the state of New Jersey completes the first major step in making this greenway a reality. We commend Gov. Murphy, all the local leaders and elected officials who recognized the extraordinary potential of the greenway, and our coalition partners — New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition and the September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance — who have been key partners in growing support for the greenway,” said Kim Elliman, president and CEO of the Open Space Institute, which secured the rights to purchase the former Boonton Line from Norfolk Southern Railway for $65 million nearly two years ago. “We are proud of the role we played to negotiate the deal, bring stakeholders together, and generate public and private support for the initiative.”

“Gov. Murphy’s announcement on the provision of funding for the Essex–Hudson Greenway is a monumental step for the future of northeastern New Jersey,” said Essex County Commissioner Brendan Gill, a longtime advocate of the greenway. “Upon its completion, the EHG will serve as a blueprint for future environmentally friendly infrastructure projects nationwide, while helping our local communities rebound from the financial challenges we experienced due to the pandemic.”

In July 2020, the Open Space Institute reached a preliminary purchase and sale agreement with Norfolk Southern Railway for the property in Essex and Hudson counties for the purpose of the greenway. Local community leaders have been calling for the creation of a linear park on the former rail line property to create a safe, off-road trail to ride a bike and walk; ease traffic and offer active transportation options; create alternate commuting options; provide close-to-home, easy access to the outdoors; and bring much needed greenspace to urban communities that are traditionally and negatively impacted by infrastructure development.

“This greenway project has been a major campaign of ours for nearly a decade and we are thrilled that the state has taken this critical step in making this dream a reality that will offer so many benefits to all our residents,” said Debra Kagan, executive director of the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition. “We want to express our gratitude to Gov. Murphy and his staff, along with our coalition partners, whose hard work has made this milestone possible. We also want to thank the many community organizations and elected officials who lent their vital support and the thousands of grassroots supporters who made their voices heard and took part in the effort to get us this far. This greenway will bring enhanced quality-of-life to the entire region, provide access to open space to underserved communities, and be a landmark of development that promotes healthy communities.”

The proposed greenway follows the right-of-way of the eastern portion of NJ Transit’s former Boonton Line. Passenger service was discontinued on this portion of the line in 2002. Following termination of NJ Transit’s commuter service, limited freight service continued until the last rail customer ceased operations in 2015. The greenway spans an average of 100 feet or more in width throughout its route.

“We are happy that the State of New Jersey has stepped forward to do their part to make sure that we can bring this valuable greenway and recreational space to the people,” said Thomas Baxter, president of the September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance. “In addition to its impact at the local level, this project has major national significance as a major New Jersey component of the recently designated 9/11 Memorial Trail. We extend our sincere thanks and appreciation to the governor, representatives of the various state departments, and our own community and elected leaders who help us reach this pivotal point. We continue to appreciate the ongoing support of the community, as well, and the countless members of the public who have been advocates for the project over the years.”

The Open Space Institute and its partners have already begun investing in planning, surveying, environmental assessments and more. The project offers the potential to reduce traffic and storm water runoff in towns along the rail line, improve transportation options for residents, and allow for improved infrastructure connectivity for things like broadband and emergency response.