Blackstone River Bikeway, Albion, RI
"As a general rule, bike trails should not be located along railroad rights-of-way...[we] should not encourage recreational use next to active [railroad] rights-of-way."
DEBORAH SEDARES, PROVIDENCE AND WORCESTER RAILROAD, MA
"The biggest driver was the realization that this was a historic transportation corridor...to put another mode into this old corridor and reintroduce it to the people was a very exciting prospect."
LAMBRI SERVA, P.E.,
RHODE ISLAND DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
The current RWT development process varies from location to location, although common elements exist. Trail advocacy groups and public agencies often initially identify a desired RWT as part of a bikeway master plan. They then work to secure funding prior to initiating contact with the affected railroad.
When a public agency seeks approval of an RWT, the railroad company typically lacks an established, accessible review and approval process. While some RWTs move forward quickly (typically those where the trail development agency owns the land), many more are outright rejected or involve a lengthy, contentious process. RWT processes typically take between three and ten years from concept to construction.
Based on the research conducted for this report, the following recommendations are made regarding RWT development processes:
Local or regional bikeway or trail plans should include viable alternatives to any trail that is proposed within an active railroad corridor.
Each proposed RWT project should undergo a comprehensive feasibility study. If required, the proposed project also should undergo an independent, comprehensive environmental review.
Trail agencies must involve the railroad throughout the process and work to address their safety, capacity, and liability concerns.
Trail agencies should coordinate with other stakeholders, such as abutting property owners, utility companies, law enforcement officials, and residents.
The feasibility study and environmental analysis should incorporate extensive public review. Railroad officials should be invited to all public workshops, and encouraged to voice their concerns or suggestions.
Railroad companies should consider developing an internal process for handling and providing a consistent response to proposed RWT projects.
Railroad companies should assign a technical team to the project that includes, at a minimum, representatives from the real estate, legal, safety, and operations departments, to ensure that their needs and concerns are addressed.
All parties involved in RWT development should maintain a log of all conversations and decisions.
"What a railroad corridor is today does not mean it will be the same tomorrow... I would have liked to have been involved earlier in the planning process."
JAN SEIDNER, MANAGER OF RAILROAD FACILITIES, DALLAS AREA RAPID TRANSIT
"We did not realize how formal the railroad industry is. Make sure in all situations that the railroad company is involved."
JOE MOORE, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF PARKS AND RECREATION, GRAPEVINE, TX
In August 2000, researchers for this report conducted a telephone survey of officials of all the Class I U.S. railroad companies and Class I equivalent Canadian railroad companies. In response to a question about the company's position or policy on RWTs, many offered statements such as:
Most railroad companies emphasize consideration of future expansion needs, safety impacts, trespassing, liability, and future changes to adjacent land uses as reasons for opposing RWTs. Railroads often expect an increase in future business and would prefer to retain the right-of-way for expansion. They are reluctant to sell or lease the property for trail use because of the difficulty of returning the property to private use later. Possible reversion of the railroad land to adjoining landowners also may deter railroads from considering sale or lease of their land for non-railroad purposes. Railroad companies also protest that trail planners do not understand railroad operations and seem to promote the trail over safety and common sense. At the same time, most Class I railroads have at least one example of a trail near or in their corridors (see Table 5.1, page 59).
Many advocates, on the other hand, do not understand the railroads' concerns. They struggle to understand company structure and even to determine which railroad company to contact about a proposed trail, since railroad companies often lease the tracks to another company. Furthermore, transit authorities, Amtrak, and railroad companies are governed and regulated by different laws and administrations. The trail project manager must become acquainted with the regulations and governing authorities of the specific rail line and cannot assume that all rail line corridors are governed and regulated uniformly.
Many RWT planning processes are quite contentious. In most cases, railroad companies are involved in some stage of the planning, although often not early enough.
Railroad companies may be willing to consider an RWT proposal if certain conditions are met. For example, a Class I railroad company official said, "The only instances where we are presently willing to cooperate in proposals to establish new trails on or adjacent to active rail lines are:
Another Class I railroad company, the BNSF, has developed specific design requirements for acceptable projects, but stresses that each project will be analyzed on its own merits, with trespass history a major consideration.
The Wheeling Corporation's report, Rails with Trails (Wait, 1998), offers the perspective of a smaller, regional company. "We at the Wheeling Corporation see many benefits of rails-with-trails within some of the communities we serve, both in economic development and enhancing the beauty of the area. With properly patrolled trails, these areas could see a dramatic decrease in trespassing, vandalism, and sabotage. And hopefully, through it all, the public will become more informed about our industry and the economic benefits of the rail carrier serving their area."
However, the Wheeling Corporation is very clear that it does not support all RWT proposals. Rather they offer a stringent set of guidelines for considering an RWT, including the following:
"The trail has reduced, maybe eliminated, illegal dumping that occurred before the trail designation."
PARK RANGER KEVIN FAZZINI, LEHIGH RIVER GORGE TRAIL, PA
The Canadian Pacific Railway has developed a detailed internal process for handling requests for trails along its Canadian corridors (Canadian Pacific Railway, 2002). Acceptable trails will not hinder or risk railway operations.
It should be noted that some publicly owned railroad agencies allow, even encourage RWT projects on their properties. Examples include the State of Maine, Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA), and Vermont Central Railway.Return to TOC
Through the course of this study, railroad company officials, law enforcement officials, and trail managers identified numerous potential ways that RWTs may benefit railroad companies and adjacent communities. Identifying such benefits is crucial to developing a successful RWT. Such benefits may include the following:
Beaten path made by children crossing tracks.
New trail next to tracks leads to track undercrossing.
|Oshawa Creek, Ontario, Canada|
Reduced liability costs
Railroads spend millions of dollars per year on insurance, legal fees, and claim payments. Entering into agreements that reduce liability exposure (e.g., indemnification agreements) can help to reduce these costs. This assumes that an inappropriate project design does not result in bringing trespassers onto the right-of-way and that trail insurers do not successfully claim gross negligence.
Many railroad companies receive some sort of financial compensation, with an average sale price of more than $800,000 for those selling property. Others receive easement or license fees, or tax credits for donated land or easement.
The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) Police Service has had dramatic results in reducing crime and trespassing through RWT designs that have improved the aesthetic quality of an area. Their approach relies on the concept of "Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design" (CPTED), meaning, "the proper design and effective use of the built environment can lead to a reduction in the incidence and fear of crime -- and to an increase in the quality of life" (Canadian Pacific Railway Police Service, 2000). Such designs attract families and large numbers of commuters and recreational users and discourage vandals and criminals, who thrive in abandoned, ugly areas. For the Oshawa Creek, Ontario, "Trespassing Prevention through Environmental Design Project," the CPR built a new trail and pedestrian undercrossing to reroute trespassing children who were crossing to get to a nearby school. Another project, Toronto's "Weston Living Fence Project," aimed to reduce trespassing by providing landscaping near otherwise blank and often graffitied walls.