Rails to trails for train tracks through Summit

A map of the railway that includes the area to be converted to the Summit Highline.
A map of the railway that includes the area to be converted to the Summit Highline.

UNION COUNTY, NJ — According to Union County’s Master Plan, Summit has made it a priority to fund a green pathway that would serve both recreational and commuter purposes.

Summit’s Robert Rubino has envisioned converting an abandoned railway into the city’s own Highline Park. The land to be converted to the Highline used to be the right-of-way for the Raritan Valley Railroad.

“I was driving down Springfield Avenue when I saw this amazing view and an abandoned strip of green land,” said Rubino. “It would be wasteful to ignore it.”
“I think this trail would be amazing,” said an anonymous resident from Cranford. “Especially in our more industrial areas, we need more green options. There’s an entire waterway — the Arthur Kill — adjacent to the county that’s completely cut off from recreation.”

The Summit Highline would provide a greenway to connect several county parks. It would create a path directly from Summit to Linden by utilizing the Rahway Valley Railroad and the Staten Island Rapid Transit.

“If Summit is able to complete the project, it might help other parts of the greenway come through,” said Union County Public Relations Coordinator, Sebastian Delia.

The Rahway Valley Railroad runs from Summit to Roselle Park. Beginning in Hidden Valley Park, the railroad right-of-way continues by connecting Houdaille Quarry, Briant Park, Meisel Park, Rahway River Parkway, Galloping Hill Golf Course and Blackbrook. The ending of the railway is on Westfield Avenue in Roselle Park. The Staten Island Rapid Transit runs from Cranford to Staten Island, although the project would only include the section that runs from Cranford to Linden. The possible beginning in Cranford would be a five-acre vacant lot adjacent to the railroad right-of-way on South Avenue East. The lot is currently owned by Lehigh Acquisition. The ending of this trail would be in Linden along another empty lot. This lot is owned by the Department of Transportation. A temporary boardwalk could be placed over the existing tracks due to the possibility of the line being reactivated.

“The Rahway Valley Railroad is owned by the state, which is very unusual,” said Rubino. “I’m currently working on getting a long-term agreement with the state for the project. So far there has been a lot of positive comments and support. This would be a way to physically connect the various parts of the city as well as act as a regional destination.”

Transforming the railway into a linear park will cost some money, but not so much that the basic necessities can’t be constructed. Volunteers have donated their time and effort to make progress. There are also plans to create a committee that would work to get grants for funding. The current hindrances are funding and getting permission from the state to move forward with the project.

“The whole project will take about five years to complete,” said Rubino. “We will have it done in stages, so it will be accessible before then. So far I raised approximately $175,000 that has gone mostly to planning. Initially there will be a pathway and fence built. Then with additional funding, we can add bridges and a playground. I’m hoping this green pathway will lead to a decrease in the need for personal transportation. It might be possible to get on a bicycle and ride to Briant Park and back to Summit. The pathway would be a way to connect different parts of the city. Adding a pedestrian bridge would add to the aesthetics.”

As of now, Rubino is still negotiating a lease with the state to move forward with planning and funding. He hopes to have a long term agreement established by the end of the summer. The project will be privately funded, so it won’t cost taxpayers any money.

“Many volunteers have expressed interest in helping to build this pathway,” said Rubino. “I would also hire some professionals in addition to public works. Once I get the 50-90 year lease, I will go forward with planning and gathering the necessary resources to complete the project. It was very much inspired by New York’s Highline Park.”