Different ROW's entirely. Upper Charles trail is the two-pronged one that leads out of Milford Depot at the end of the active tracks up into Hopkinton, and then on the more recently abandoned Milford Branch to where CSX's active rights end at Framingham CP Yard. Hopkinton flank has been around longer, and there's a small trail portion in Milford west of 495 where the ROW fell into private hands. This has been at a stalemate for 5 years now, with CSX and the town perpetually filing 180-day negotiation extensions with the STB about purchase. I guess they're proceeding with rentals and the line will retain its OOS/railbanked status from Mayflower Landing where the remaining OOS tracks end to the ownership break at Route 16 where the last freight service went. At least until they find the money to buy it entirely. Sensible plan. Good to see this resolved to some minor degree. It's a nice route...connects to the Charles network and gets pretty close to a link to the Air Line Trail/East Coast Greenway if they can bridge the Milford-Franklin gap (rail w/trail?...there's acres and acres of swamp and power line land around the active Milford Branch + the largely barren old B&P ROW through Bellingham).
I don't understand why the state is being so hands-off about this. It's not a good idea to put relations with their Class 1 partner in the hands of a bunch of screamers at Board of Selectmen hearings. This could've gotten bad fast if Holliston blew up at CSX like Leominster did (cut off negotiations, told CSX to screw off, disbanded its own trail lobby) or Sudbury/Framingham and Natick where things are getting really really testy over the Bruce Freeman Trail extension and the Saxonville Branch trail. And I'm not sure why they've showed so little interest in dealings to have not taken the lead in filing the STB extensions itself. If the line sales go direct to the towns nobody's going to file for landbanking protection with the STB, and the operating charters get extinguished. State's doing an orderly landbanking right this moment on the Watertown Branch abandonment filing, so I don't see why they wouldn't want the half-active Milford Branch under lock and key for all the chartered ROW north of the 1.5 mile (well-preserved) ownership break. Especially strange disinterest with the other negotiations for the Freeman trail where you'd think achieving full end-to-end landbanking of the F&L would register with them at some level.
Needham/Newton thing has to do primarily with an old, longish freight spur
that split off the Needham Line (freight-only portion) in Newton Upper Falls, looped around an industrial park, crossed back over the Charles, and served a Needham industrial park. Last active customers on the line were on this spur, and it's where Bay Colony's abandoned Alco in the woods was towed in 2008 and scrapped in the parking lot (last official move on the line, although it's still designated-active). Very good trail candidate. Serves no other transit purpose, hits all the major streets, links the two towns, hits the Charles riverbank trail. I'm kind of surprised they aren't already using the trestle as a footbridge. Bay Colony stopped moving south of the river on that spur even before business dried up north of it.
The Needham Branch-proper has to do with the same two Bay Colony Trail guys in Dover/Medfield who are trying to take the Millis Line by force. Whole different and more controversial matter than the industrial spur trail. They want a bike path straight from Needham Heights at the end of the commuter rail to Newton Centre on the Green Line, on grounds that the T isn't serious at all about holding the corridor. Incorporated a splinter trail lobby, and are peddling the Iron Horse FREE TRAIL! scam. Townsfolk in both towns are very ambivalent about that because they want rail transit of some sort, Green Line eventually or 1-stop Needham Line extension to 128 in the interim to save Highland Ave. congestion and serve all the redevelopment there. And recognize this is an either/or choice that where trail now means no rail later. But these guys are kind of intimidating bicycle nihilists who spend half their time trashing every mode of transit other than bipedal. BIMBY-NIMBY's, as it were. As much as they've made friends in the Dover and Medfield walled gardens and seem to have bought off every Patch reporter in the area they've pissed off a lot of factions in Needham and Newton by hijacking every town meeting to hector people about the trail.
And they aren't playing by the rules, as they are not registered with the Rails for Trails Conservancy and haven't contacted the MBTA with their request. Bay Colony still holds freight rights on the line, with it still designated-active. They've shown no inclination of changing that (why...who knows?), so the T cannot dole out another 99-year trail trail lease without a Bay Colony abandonment filing or agreement to buy them out of their rights. So the lobby is hitting up the towns on each trail route to get the Iron Horse scam passed as lawful ordinances in each town, until they have ordinances covering all of Bay Colony's unused rights and can force threat of a legal challenge in which Bay Colony and the T take path of least resistance and surrender rather than defend their contractual standing. I don't know why they don't just wait a couple years because Bay Colony can never generate new business east of Medfield and they probably aren't going to be in business much longer. The T compulsively coughs up 99-year trail leases like confetti. Very strange tactic of them. But maybe they're afraid G&U's going to take a cheap gander on BC's trackage rights to Newton as a paper hold or means of adding a couple more towns to its municipal road salt deliveries. Dirty pool, at any rate.
Remains to be seen where this goes. There are ONLY 2 guys as permanent members of this non-profit, and it's impossible to tell how much pull they actually have because their PR front and slick websites makes them seem a lot more influential than they actually are. I don't think there's many people who truly know about these proposals except for all the Patch/Wicked Local reporters they write prepared statements for to pump up their Google hits. I fear the Iron Horse scam's going to play out to completion on the Needham-Medfield section and hose a midpoint connection to the Framingham Secondary the T would be better off railbanking OOS than losing outright. DCR's going to get stuck with yet another permanent trail maintenance headache a la Danvers when their sham "adopt-a-mile" all-volunteer trail maintenance plan can't get enough volunteers to keep the ROW passable. Needham-Newton's probably going to be a much more rigorous citizen debate because of the worries about permanently blocking rail and some of the raised eyebrows about these guys' aggressiveness. One to watch, but they seem to be playing it very cautiously.