MILFORD, Mass. — The Grafton & Upton Railroad broke ground Monday on a $1 million state-supported revitalization project that will restore nine railroad crossings in Hopedale and Milford.
After driving a symbolic spike into the rail behind Pinz Entertainment, Grafton & Upton Railroad owner Jon Delli Priscoli looked down the track with a smile.
"The end of the line? That's right down there," he said, pointing past Depot Street. "That's where we'll connect to CSX."
Back when Delli Priscoli began talks to acquire the short-rail line in 2008, the end of the line seemed like an impossible goal. The 137-year-old railroad had been in limited use for years, with crumbling railroad ties and extensive brush growth. The critical Hopedale to Milford stretch included railroad crossings that were completely paved over.
On Monday, Delli Priscoli was joined by representatives from the state Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development and MassDOT, along with state and local officials to celebrate how far the rail line has come in the past four years. The towns of Hopedale and Milford were awarded $1 million through the MassWorks Infrastructure Program for the revitalization project, which is touted as a spur that will bring business back to Hopedale's vacant Draper Mill as well as boost economic activity in the region.
"It's a major boost to the area," said state Sen. Richard Moore, D-Uxbridge. Delli Priscoli "has already shown the railroad bring in jobs to this area. I think it's going to be a very important catalyst to development in the Blackstone Valley and Milford areas."
Once this last portion is complete, the Grafton & Upton Railroad will be a 15-mile conduit between CSX rails in Grafton and Milford. The stretch between Grafton and Upton has already seen a bump in transit, with a high of 18 railroad cars running from North Grafton.
"This project is going to unlock economic development. You can already see it," Delli Priscoli said.
In late August, the railroad secured its first contract with a bulk goods shipper, G&U Logistics. The company, formed by Romar Transportation Services, will relocate from CSX's Allston yard to the Hopedale facility. The railroad will bring in building materials, palletized fiber, rolled paper, toys and games, which G&U Logistics will transfer to trucks and ship to retailers and wholesalers. G&U Logistics plans to operate out of the Wickes Lumber Building as it constructs its own facilities on site. The company anticipates running one train per day, or about 600 box cars per year.
State Rep. John Fernandes, D-Milford, and Hopedale Selectman Bob Burns see the completed rail line as a savior for the Draper Mill. Thwarted plans to develop the mill as residential space would not have had the economic boost as the possible return of industry to the area, they said.
"There are people out there in the railroad industry today who wouldn't have time to meet with a local official, nevermind engage in a community the way that Jon has," Fernandes said. "He is a good neighbor. This is what this area needs and this is exactly the type of job and business growth opportunity that this administration and this legislature want to target for our limited economic incentive tax dollars."