PEABODY — Within the next two months, city officials hope to have an in-depth study in their hands on how to get a trolley system up and running in Peabody’s downtown.
Community Development Director Curt Bellavance said three proposals came in from different firms by the bid deadline and those proposals are being reviewed by an evaluation committee, which will recommend a firm to hire.
He said his staff sent the request for bids to about a dozen firms, with one qualification being that the city wanted a quick turnaround time of 30-40 days.
The study will analyze the feasibility of the project, including likely costs, estimated ridership and any barriers to access.
“This will give us direction on the strong and weak points (of the project),” Bellavance said.
Key factors in that review, he said, will be shared use of the rail line with Rousselot — which receives regular deliveries via rail at its gelatin manufacturing plant on Washington Street — who should operate the trolley, and who will likely be riding on it.
The general concept is to use the existing rail line that cuts through Peabody Square and run a trolley along the North River canal over to the Salem train station. Officials have also talked about extending service up to the Northshore Mall in the other direction. There are trolley cars that can operate on both roads and rails.
“We’re still trying to figure all of that out,” said Bellavance. “This is the reason we are bringing on a consultant — to provide us with a feasibility study that shows us what service works better, where could the trolley operate, where would the stops be, etc. There are many options and we want to narrow it down to a program that is (functional).”
The city is working with the MBTA on this effort and would need approval from the state to access the line. The MBTA owns the rail line while the freight rights are held by Pan Am. Currently, the tracks are only actively used by Rousselot.
Local officials say the trolley service would be a convenience both to tourists visiting Salem, to hop on the trolley to hit up the region’s largest shopping mall, as well as for local commuters headed in and out of Boston.
The mayor has pointed to the parking lot on Mill Street, which the city purchased in 2014 from the MBTA, as a likely base of operations for the trolley.
Peabody’s state delegation secured a $50,000 grant this past winter for the study. And then in April, the city signed a contract with Lynn Ahlgren, a Lowell-based consultant who works on public and private transit projects.
Ahlgren is also a former state transit director and will oversee the production of the feasibility study, as well as provide guidance on the overall project.
There’s also the possibility of extending the trolley service to Danvers. Another branch line, though not active, runs from Danvers to Peabody Square.
Bellavance said Danvers officials have expressed interest in the trolley, but he noted that significant repairs would have to be made to that line in order to reactivate it.
“We’ll cooperate with them along with Salem,” said Bellavance. “We would definitely want to coordinate.”
Meanwhile, Rousselot is getting a $222,000 grant from the state to extend the tracks near its plant that will allow it to store more raw materials on-site and reduce the frequency of such deliveries.
The grant was announced this week by the Department of Transportation as part of more than $1.8 million awarded for five projects via the Industrial Rail Access Program, a public-private partnership that provides financial assistance for rail infrastructure projects that improve access. The grants will supplement more than $2.4 million in private financing.
Patrick Marvin, a MassDOT spokesman, said the Rousselot project will extend two spurs that will allow the facility to store eight additional railcars on the property. This will reduce the frequency of freight deliveries to the site, he said, and improve overall operations for the plant.
While the scope of work doesn’t include the downtown section of track, MassDOT did note that this would also reduce the frequency of trains tying up traffic in Peabody Square.
“Part of our trolley study would be to include conversations (with Rousselot) about how we would share schedules and rail access,” said Bellavance.
Staff writer John Castelluccio can be reached at 978-338-2677 or firstname.lastname@example.org.