Bridges aren’t built simply to join two separate pieces of land; they are built to connect the people that use them. That connection works to unite separate communities, expand boundaries and allow access to formerly inaccessible areas. With that theme of connectivity as their main objective, the family-led team behind the Friends of the Bermuda Railway Trails (FBRT) charity have now bridged and reconnected the trail in four separate locations with both expected and unexpected results.
It all began when conservation biologist and Olympian skier Tucker Murphy compiled a comprehensive research study on the Railway Trail several years ago. His father, retired tax attorney Lawrence Murphy, challenged Tucker to do something tangible with his study and together, along with Tucker’s sister, Laura, who has experience in the Department of Planning, they began work to improve the trails.
Working alongside the Department of Parks which is responsible for the trails, they started raising funds and improving the west side with new garbage cans, benches and repair work to stop erosion in some affected areas. The team then focused on the reconnection of several isolated areas with bridges over Bailey’s Bay, Winton Hill and Store Hill and the recently opened bridge over North Shore Road near Flatts.
“We believe that the benefits of reconnecting the railway trail are three-fold: health, tourism and sustainable transport,” said Tucker. “[Studies] show that investment in trails leads to healthier communities, particularly for those least able to afford gym memberships. For example, one paper in the U.S. shows that communities receive a three-dollar return in health benefits for every dollar invested in a trail.
“The tourism benefits are obvious from tourists’ positive reviews on forums such as Airbnb and TripAdvisor. The success of rails-to-trails projects elsewhere and the overwhelming popularity of projects such as the High Line in New York City also indicate the value of trails to visitors.
“Finally, increasing sustainable modes of commuting is probably the most difficult objective to achieve. This requires making cycling or walking more convenient than cars and almost perfect connectivity. We have a long way to go to increase active commuting in Bermuda, though we have observed some parents using the bridges at Bailey’s Bay to drop their children at Francis Patton Primary School.”
As with any large-scale project, objections can be expected and the FBRT team were prepared for them. “The handful of objections we have received on the current project are of the not-in-my-backyard nature,” explained Tucker. “These objections are understandable given that Bermuda is such a small, densely populated island. We respond to all objections through the normal planning process, by stating why we believe reconnecting the railway trail is a worthwhile endeavour, while citing supporting research and policy and clarifying misconceptions or questions on bridge and trail design.”
Lawrence has been a fully hands-on member of the team and his negotiating skills have helped tremendously in handling some of the bigger issues and objections along the way. “We did the Store Hill bridge in 2015,” he said. “The controversy there was the dairy farm waste, which during rain storms ran directly onto the trail as far as a kilometre away and into several of the neighbouring properties’ and at least one pool. The waste also resulted in severe over-nutrification on the trail and the overgrowth of nettles and vegetation such that the trail was almost impassable. “
While Green Land Dairy Farm owner Valter Madeiros took remedial measures to staunch the overflow of cow manure, FBRT employed D&J Excavating and Sousa’s Landscaping and their machinery to scrape the deep layer of manure from the trail to clear it. Through the use of up-to-date anti-erosion techniques involving geo-cells, the free manure was converted into a retaining wall to make a sustainable gradual down slope for the trail as it comes off the Store Hill bridges. “The bridges at Store Hill helped resolve an issue that had been going on for many years and converted people who were either neutral or slightly negative into supporters,” said Tucker.
With the trails opened up and continuous stretches now unimpeded, communities such as Bailey’s Bay and Crawl as well as Loyal Hill and Flatts now have a new connection to each other. “Fundamentally what we find in doing these trails is that bridges are about connectivity and that’s the philosophy,” said Lawrence. “And they’ve connected communities that haven’t been connected since the railway days.”
“We measured trail use before and after bridge construction over a week-long period and found that it increased ten-fold at Bailey’s Bay—this is the most important metric to us,” added Tucker. “Diverse community groups such as the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Crawl and the Bermuda National Trust also showed their appreciation for the bridge project with awards. Finally, very positive reviews may be found at Airbnbs bordering the trail and four Airbnb owners have recognized the value in the recent bridge across North Shore Road of being able to get safely to Flatts Inlet and Police Beach along the trail
An unexpected result of the bridges has been the overall improvement of properties lining the trails. “It had a cascading effect,” said Lawrence. “As more people started using the trails, homeowners nearby became house proud and they had to spruce up their property.”
A Community Effort
Involving the community is the key to the success of the railway reconnection project to date and many have volunteered their expertise along the way. Tucker credits his sister, Laura, whose seven-plus years working in government, along with her legalistic approach and excellent technical skills in reviewing engineering, architectural and planning documents, were invaluable to working through the lengthy process with government, as well as his father’s negotiating skills and abilities in fund-raising to help shepherd the projects through. The original bridge designer, Eric Johansen, has also been key after he came on board, pro bono, to offer his engineering advice after selling his bridge company. Also generously volunteering his time has been Alan Burland, who has a lifetime of experience engineering projects in Bermuda.
“The project has required work from diverse people with a wide selection of skills and backgrounds,” he added. “They include people such as Peter Carfoot, who has donated time to help us manage Revit on the design side; Rachelle Frisby of Deloitte who has volunteered her accounting expertise; Joe Sousa (of D&J Construction), Richard Allen (of Relentless Enterprises), Michael Tatem and Charles Crisson who have tried to keep the pylon construction and bridge lifting cost efficient—not an easy task in Bermuda; and Catalino Nanud who has been one of our most reliable workers on the bridge building side.”
Tucker also had generous praise for Parks Superintendent Craig Burt: “The Department of Parks owns and maintains the Bermuda railway trail and is our government partner in this endeavour. The pedestrian bridges built are ultimately the property of the Bermuda government. Parks Superintendent Craig Burt has been instrumental in the success of the project. He has taken on many tasks, from improving landscaping on the trail to providing the requisite letters of permission for importing the bridge materials, liasing with other government departments, and regulating traffic with Parks’ employees and rangers during the two days in which we lifted bridges into place.”
As a partner in this project, the Department of Parks does contribute financially to a small portion of the project but the other 80–90 percent is raised from key supporters primarily in the insurance and reinsurance sectors. “For the current Flatts project the key supporters have been Ironshore (who have been supporting FBRT from the beginning five years ago) through Kevin Kelly’s leadership, Dinos Iordano through Arch Capital, the Stempel family and Brian Duperreault,” said Tucker.
Another key to the project’s success has been the volunteers who have offered free labour to clean up the trails and build the unassembled bridges. This past summer they included too many to name individually, though some of the most reliable included families such as the Holders, Dawsons, Butterfields and Eves. Security Associates Ltd. offered their services for free to make sure the recent Flatts bridge parts were safe and secure before installation. Another big booster has been the Bermuda Tourism Authority who has offered support through grants and awareness programmes.
And that’s exactly the most important part of the entire project for the Murphy family—the community coming together to take ownership of their collective piece of Bermuda. “A project like this is not possible without the local community—whether it is in the form of funding grants or volunteers,” said Tucker. “Building bridges by yourself is impossible.”
Looking Beyond Phase One
With phase one of the Flatts project now complete, the family is unsure of the timeline of phase two. While, at press time, financing was at 80 percent and planning permission had been received, there were still a few obstacles to overcome. “For the project to move forward a number of things must still fall into place; existing infrastructure must pass load tests, a few other engineering questions must be resolved and additional funding must be secured. We are looking at these issues now,” said Tucker.
If the bridge over Flatts Inlet were to be completed, the continuous length of trail would reach over eight kilometres—aside from a break around Burchall Cove. Users could start at Coney Island and end up on Palmetto Road (next to the bus depot).
Extensive research has gone into the technical aspects of the design since the bridge will be going over a very active area of water. “Very generally, the bridge is a truss design reminiscent of the historic railway bridge across Flatts Inlet,” said Tucker. “Clearance height for boats is equal to Watford and determined by Marine and Ports to allow for adequate passage of fishing boats. The length is approximately 150 feet between pylons and width is eight foot.”
While overall the Bermuda government policy favours the project, numerous permissions still had to be sought and hurdles overcome in the process. “All of the Bermuda government’s policy supports reconnecting and improving the railway trail—from Energy White Papers, to the BTA promotional agenda, to the Department of Health’s strategy,” said Tucker. “However, seeking the required government permits and approvals to carry out this project was a lengthy and detailed process.
“Prior to the planning process we submitted a Cabinet Memo and made sure that the primary government Ministries were on board. Once we submitted a planning application in partnership with the Department of Parks we had to seek approvals from all government Departments involved—Estates, Marine and Ports, Highways, the Historic Preservation Board, etc.
“As with any infrastructure project there is always a balance between government regulation and the desire to move the project forward and increased costs associated with delays.”
It may have taken two years to finally be realised, but the team were thrilled when the bridge over North Shore Road was finally laid in place this past September.
“It has taken a much longer time than anticipated to get to the bridge assembly and construction phase of the project and it does feel good to get started on the actual tangible productive side and work again with the volunteers as this is truly a rewarding experience and community effort for the benefit of both the health and safety of the public users and the tourists who are trail users: walkers, runners and pedal bikers,” said Lawrence after the first bridges were set in place.
“If phase two is completed, the trail will connect the diverse communities in Devonshire, Smith’s and Hamilton Parishes with a safe place to walk, ride pedal bikes, greet each other and stop for a swim as far away as Shelly Bay without risking the dangerous roads in traffic. The children as far away as Loyal Hill community may be freed to bike ride to Shelly Bay Beach without endangering life and limb.”
When asked what his ultimate vision was for the trails, Tucker said he believes that while much will change, much will also stay the same, but it is the connection that is important.
“In the future, I expect our mode of transport will change a great deal, as it has in the past (evidenced by our railway heritage),” he said. “Worldwide, there appear to be many trends that will have a profound effect on our infrastructure and built landscapes such as increased cycling infrastructure as well as pedal cycle and scooter sharing and improving electric bicycle and autonomous car technology. Through all these trends I expect human biology to remain mostly the same.
“I believe that humans will always have a need for free and natural places for exercise and enjoyment and the railway trail will continue to provide such an outlet. Hopefully, active commuting—on foot or by pedal cycle or even electric-assisted pedal cycle—will also increase as the trail becomes more connected.”