Skip to content U.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway AdministrationU.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration

Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)
PlanningEnvironmentReal Estate

HEP Events Guidance Publications Awards Contacts

Rails-with-Trails: Lessons Learned

SECTION II: Case Studies

This section provides summaries of 21 rail-with-trail case studies researched for this report (see Figure 2.1).

NOTE [inserted April 21, 2006]: These case studies are examples of RWT facilities as they existed when this report was developed. These case studies are not intended to be recommended practices.

Pie chart. Trespassing incidents: Walking along rail - 58%, Walking across rail - 38%, Walking on rail - 2%, and Unkown - 2%.

FIGURE 2.2: Planned RWT case studies: Type of trespassing by percentage of incidents, 2000

Pie chart. Would trail accommodate trespassers: Unkown - 24%, Yes - 32%, and No - 44%.

FIGURE 2.3: Planned RWT case studies: "Would observed activity be accommodated by planned RWT?" Percentage of observed incidents, 2000

Pie chart. Age of observed trespassers. Ages 20 to 50 - 42%, Over 50 - 3%, Unkown or no response - 1%.

FIGURE 2.4: Planned RWT case studies: Age of observed trespassers, 2000

Overview of Findings

In general, when a trail developer owns the right-of-way, RWT projects tend to proceed more quickly. All RWT projects should involve the railroads, law enforcement officials, and other stakeholders from the outset. These stakeholders know best their operation and maintenance issues and potential trouble spots.

A map of the Continental US. Points on the map represent an Existing/Planned RWT Facility: State of WA - Seattle Waterfront, Elliot Bay, and Burke-Gilman Trail Extension. State of OR - OMSI/Springwater. State of California - Mission City and Coastal. State of CO - Platte River Trail, State of Texas - Cottonbelt. State of MN - Cedar Lake Trail. State of WI - Lacrosse. State of MI - Railroad Trail. State of GA - Chattahoochee. State of PA - Five Star Extension, Three Rivers, Schuylkill River, Lehigh River Gorge, and Northeast Corridor. State of RI - Blackstone River Bikeway. State of VT - Burlington Waterfront Bikeway. State of ME - Kennebec River.

FIGURE 2.1 RWT case studies

Railroad company participation in the design of RWTs can help maximize safety and minimize adverse impacts on railroad operations. Positive design features include good separation (distance, grade, vegetation, or fencing), well-defined and designed crossings, ongoing maintenance, and user education. Where these features are not present, RWTs can cause undue burden on the railroads in the form of increased trespassing, operation and maintenance costs, safety risks, and potential legal liability for injury to trail users and trespassers.

Researchers observed few trespassers on tracks next to existing trails. Those few observed were crossing or walking on tracks where fencing was not present to separate the trail from the tracks. In corridors where trails are planned but no formal facility exists yet, researchers observed more frequent trespassing. The most serious conditions were along the planned Coastal Rail-Trail in California near Del Mar and Encinitas, where 155 trespassers were observed over the course of two hours. On four trails partially built during the course of this study (Blackstone River Bikeway, Burke-Gilman Extension, Cottonbelt Trail, and Kennebec River Trail), before and after comparison found either no change or a significant drop in trespassing once the trail was built.

Among all the trails observed, most trespassers were crossing the track to access the ocean, a river, or lake for surfing, fishing, or other recreational activity (see Figure 2.2). The rest were walking alongside the tracks. Few were actually on the track. Approximately 44 percent of the trespassers were following a path that would not be accommodated by the RWT, while about 32 percent followed a path that likely will become the trail (see Figure 2.3).

Researchers noted the majority of trespassers were less than 20 years old and male (see Figures 2.4 and 2.5). More than three quarters were pedestrians, with the remainder split between runners, bicyclists, and other (see Figure 2.6).

Pie chart. Observed gender of trespassers, 2000. Male - 68%, Female - 30%, and Unknown - 2%.

FIGURE 2.5: Planned RWT case studies: Observed gender of trespassers, 2000
 Pie chart. Observed type of trespassers. Pedestrian - 77%, Other - 10%, Runner - 7%, Unknown - 1%, and Bicyclist - 5%.

FIGURE 2.6: Planned RWT case studies: Observed type of trespassers, 2000

Updated: 02/11/2014
HEP Home Planning Environment Real Estate
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000