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Rails-with-Trails: Lessons Learned

SECTION II: Case Studies (cont.)

Case Study Summaries < 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 >

The Atchinson, Topeka, and Santa Fe (ATSF) Trail
City of Irvine, Orange County, California

STATUS Existing, opened 1984

A photo of a bicyclist riding along a paved trail after crossing railroad tracks. A sign says 'Please Walk Bike Across Tracks'.
Crossing the Metrolink track on the ATSF Trail. Irvine, CA

DESCRIPTION The ATSF Irvine Trail is a 3 m (10 ft) wide shared use path located on Southern California Edison's 61 m (200 ft) wide easement of the Orange County Transportation Authority's (OCTA) railway corridor. The trail parallels the railway for approximately 5 km (3.2 mi). The Southern California Regional Rail (SCRRA) operates 31 Metrolink trains in OCTA's rail right-of-way. In addition, 22 Amtrak trains and eight freight trains travel through the corridor. The passenger trains travel at speeds up to 145 km/h (90 mi/h). Freight trains travel about 89 km/h (55 mi/h).

DESIGN The easement generally is landscaped with trees and shrubs. A 1.5 m (5 ft) high chain link fence separates the Edison easement (and the trail) from the railway tracks. The trail meanders through the easement and typically is 15 m (50 ft) to 30 m (100 ft) from the track centerline. Primarily single-family and multi-family developments border the trail. No trail signage identifies the trail entrances. Other than a park with little parking, there are no staging areas.

PROBLEMS Officials report minor problems associated with the trail, mainly with graffiti and vandals cutting the fence, presumably to trespass across or on the tracks. Because of the width of utility easement, people rarely walk along the tracks. Thus, officials report no trespassing problems. Some portions of the trail are lit for night use.

OTHER Planners designed the trail in the 1970s. The older neighborhoods can access the trail only from major roadways. Newer neighborhoods, at the northern portion of the project, have built connections and several small parks along the rail corridor. Southern California Edison renews the lease agreement every five years.

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Blackstone River Bikeway
Albion, Rhode Island

STATUS Construction underway winter 2001-2002. Open in part as of April 2002.

A photo of a rail corridor at a signalized road crossing.
Location of the future Blackstone River Bikeway along the PWRR tracks. Albion, RI

DESCRIPTION The Blackstone River Bikeway is a 9.7 km (6 mi) planned shared use path along tracks owned by the Providence and Worcester Railroad (PWRR). It travels through rural Albion and runs adjacent to the Blackstone River, recently designated as a National Historic Corridor. Up to four diesel freight trains operate on the tracks on a daily basis at speeds up to 64 km/h (40 mi/h), while an additional 10 to 20 excursion trains use the tracks occasionally throughout the year. Projected use of the trail is more than 1,000 users per day.

DESIGN The trail will be located 5.5 to 18 m (18 to 60 ft) from the track centerline, averaging 7.6 m (25 ft) setback over the length of the trail. The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) will install and maintain a 2.4 m (8 ft) high chain link fence with black vinyl slats to separate the track and trail.

PROBLEMS The rail line has experienced extensive trespassing, from dirt bike and all-ter-rain vehicle users, to walkers and illegal dumping along the tracks.

OTHER The RIDOT and PWRR negotiated for several years to approve the trail, which represents one important link in a more than 72 km (45 mi) proposed project (of which 45 km (28 mi) are in Massachusetts and 27 km (17 mi) are in Rhode Island) to connect Providence, Rhode Island, and Worcester, Massachusetts. The PWRR saw the project as a way to improve operations and business opportunities in the State, hoping their cooperation would help with DOT support for other PWRR projects.

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Burke-Gilman Trail Extension
Seattle, Washington

STATUS 1.2 km (.75 mi) in place

DESCRIPTION The existing and planned trail is an approximate 6.4 km (4 mi) extension of the 21 km (13 mi) long Burke-Gilman Trail. The right-of-way is owned and managed by the City of Seattle, which purchased it from the BNSF Railway. The RWT portion is planned in four sections: the 1.2 km (.75 mi) built portion, a 0.8 km (.5 mi) section planned for construction in summer 2002, a 2.1 km (1.3 mi) section planned for construction in summer 2003, and a not-yet-designed section between 11th and Chittendon Locks. The Ballard Terminal Railroad (BTR) runs a freight service on the tracks with approximately two to three round trips per week at speeds no more than 16 km/h (10 mi/h). The company is considering the addition of passenger services.

A photo of an unpaved road in an industrial area next to apparently rarely used railroad tracks. Cars and old buildings litter the landscape.
Planned future site of the Burke-Gilman Extension along the BTR tracks. Seattle, WA

DESIGN The tracks are bounded almost entirely by small industry, and ship-related and retail businesses. The trail, with an initial projected usage of 1,000 to 2,000 people per day, will be open 24 hours a day. Averaging 3 to 3.6 m (10 to 12 ft), the trail will set back 3 to 7.6 m (10 to 25 ft) from the track centerline, depending on the site situation. Physical separation will vary, depending on the conditions, from a 0.9 m to 1.1 m (3 ft to 3.5 ft) high fence, to motor vehicle parking, to nothing.

PROBLEMS According to both the City and the BTR, the railroad's historic trespassing and dumping problems decreased significantly after the existing section of the RWT was built. In areas without the trail, a railroad employee precedes the infrequent trains on foot to ward off motorists, pedestrians, and others, whereas the channelization of trail users in the RWT section abrogates this need.

OTHER The public planning process for this proposed trail has been lengthy, adversarial, and has involved more than a dozen parties. Many challenges remain, including safety, sight distance, and access for industrial property owners in the area.

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Burlington Waterfront Bikeway
Burlington, Vermont

STATUS Existing, opened 1985

A photo of a bicyclist riding on a paved section of the bikeway and a commuter train at an outdoor stop. A low fence separates the trail and the railroad tracks.
Burlington Waterfront Bikeway located along the Vermont Railway Company tracks. Burlington, VT

DESCRIPTION The entire Burlington Waterfront Bikeway recreational corridor is 12 km (7.5 mi) long. The RWT section is 3.2 km (2 mi) long. The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) owns the corridor. The City of Burlington developed and manages the trail. The Vermont Railway Company (VTRR), under an easement to VTrans, uses the tracks as a switching yard with numerous trains operating continuously throughout the day at speeds no greater than 16 km/h (10 mi/h).

Hundreds of thousands of users cycle and walk annually on the RWT.

DESIGN The contract agreement required fencing for most of the RWT length.

PROBLEMS Before the trail and fence were installed, people from abutting residential properties frequently crossed the tracks to get to their destinations. The addition of the trail had the effect of "channelizing" pedestrian crossings down to a few known areas, reducing the problems dramatically. Vandals occasionally cut the fences along the corridor. The City is in charge of fence and trail maintenance.

OTHER In 1982, the City Attorney for Burlington started to negotiate with the Central Vermont Railway (whose tracks approach from the north) and VTRR and VTrans. All parties reached agreement and built the trail in 1985.

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Cedar Lake Trail
Minneapolis, Minnesota

STATUS Existing, opened 1980s

DESCRIPTION The Cedar Lake Trail runs from downtown Minneapolis to the western city limits on property owned by BNSF Railway. The Minneapolis Park Board operates the 7.6 m (25 ft) wide easement and trail, which has two at-grade crossings. The trail is 5.6 km (3.5 mi) long, with planned connections to other regional trails creating a loop of approximately 80 km (50 mi) of trail. The adjacent tracks carry 10 to 12 trains per day, with an average speed of between 40 and 80 km/h (25 and 50 mi/h).

DESIGN The minimum setback of the trail from the centerline of the track is 4.6 m (15 ft), with the average setback 7.6 m (25 ft). In the areas of minimum setback, a 1.8 m (6 ft) chain link fence separates the trail and nearest track. The trail reportedly helped improve railroad maintenance by upgrading the access roads.

PROBLEMS Security is provided by daily patrols, although the trail reportedly experiences fewer security problems than the surrounding area as a whole. No trail users have filed lawsuits against the railroad. Officials report a decrease in trespassing incidents on the adjacent tracks since the trail was installed.

OTHER The Parks Board provides maintenance, as well as security, with the Minneapolis Police Department.

Updated: 02/11/2014
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