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Coordination with Railroads to Facilitate Acquisition of ROW

Table Of Contents

Executive Summary
1 Background
1.1 Problem Statement
1.2 Research Approach
2. Findings
2.1 Types of Typical Projects and Required Agreements
2.2 Roles and Responsibilities
2.3 The Agreement Process
2.4 Observed Impediments and Problems
2.5 Review of Applicable Federal Regulations
3.1 Areas Identified as Requiring Improvement
3.2 Suggested Next Steps
Appendix A. Amtrak Interview Summary
Appendix B. Summary of State DOT Interviews
Appendix C. Webinar Summary Discussion Notes
Appendix D. Amtrak Status Under Eminent Domain
Appendix E. Glossary


AASHTO American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials

CFR Code of Federal Regulations

ConnDOT Connecticut Department of Transportation

DelDOT Delaware Department of Transportation

FHWA Federal Highway Administration

FTA Federal Transit Administration

HEPR FHWA Office of Real Estate Services

MassDOT Massachusetts Department of Transportation

MBTA Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority

MDOT Maryland Department of Transportation

NCHRP National Cooperative Highway Research Program

NEC Northeast Corridor

NJDOT New Jersey Department of Transportation

NYSDOT New York Department of Transportation

PennDOT Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

RIDOT Rhode Island Department of Transportation

ROW Right of Way

SDOT State Department(s) of Transportation

SHRP2 Strategic Highway Research Program 2

STB Surface Transportation Board

UA Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies

Act of 1970 as amended


The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (Volpe Center) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, prepared this report for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Office of Real Estate Services (HEPR). Ronald Mauri of the Volpe Center’s Transportation Policy and Planning Technical Center led the project team, which consisted of Joseph Mergel and Lydia Rainville also of the Transportation Policy and Planning Technical Center; and Clyde B. Johnson, of Clyde B. Johnson, Consultant Services, Inc..

The Volpe Center project team wishes to thank the numerous stakeholders who contributed their time and invaluable insights in completing this research, including staff from Amtrak, the State Departments of Transportation in Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island and the FHWA Division Offices of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania.  Special thanks go to David Nicol, Director, Office of Program Administration, FHWA, for the information and insights he provided that were pertinent to our study.

The project team would also like to thank John J. Turpin of HEPR for his guidance and patience during the conduct of this project.

Executive Summary

It has been observed by the FHWA Office of Real Estate Services (HEPR) that there has been an emerging national trend for increasingly difficult and time consuming right-of-way (ROW) access agreements and acquisitions of smaller parcels from railroads.  The frequent complaint is that railroads are slow to process requests for access rights and State Departments of Transportation ( SDOTs) have a difficult time reaching an amicable negotiated settlement.

In response SDOT requests to HEPR headquarters, the Federal Highway Administration  has determined  that it would be a worthy research effort to explore ways in which SDOT  ROW access agreements and real estate acquisitions from railroads could be expedited to the benefit of all stakeholders and the safety and convenience of the traveling public.

HEPR is aware that addressing this issue on a national scale would be a monumental task, far exceeding the level of resources currently available. The HEPR office is aware of recent comments on the difficulty of achieving timely acquisitions of rights needed for highway construction and improvement in the northeastern United States. This project will be confined to research of this problem in the northeastern United States, specifically those States through which the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) operates its Northeast Corridor.

In one sense this current effort can be viewed as a follow on of the research reported in the SHRP2 report Strategies for Improving the Project Agreement Process Between Highway Agencies and Railroads. That effort was broader in scope and examined nationwide problems associated with the engineering reviews of highway/railroad projects, primarily involving the freight railroads.

The purpose of this research is to develop approaches which will be useful to acquiring agencies as they advance right-of-way access and land acquisition programs. This includes identifying the best ways to use HEPR resources to help SDOTs and other local public agencies successfully and expeditiously achieve railroad access agreements and acquisitions consistent with the provisions of the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970 as amended, also known as the Uniform Act (UA).

The objectives of this project were to

In order to meet these objectives Volpe organized and conducted a web conference (a "webinar") of representatives from SDOTs within the Northeast Corridor (NEC). FHWA Division offices, and FHWA Headquarters personnel that have experience in the subject matter. The goal of the webinar was to gather information on stakeholders' experience in acquiring a variety of real estate rights and interests from Amtrak and other railroads. The information gathered at the webinar served as the foundation for the development of a series of questions used in the activities described below.

Following up on the webinar, Volpe interviewed State Directors of Right-of-Way about how they are implementing the railroad acquisition element of their right-of-way programs. The Directors of Right-of-Way interviewed included those of the States included in Amtrak’s NEC.

Volpe interviewed Amtrak real estate staff to ascertain their involvement and input to the railroad out- conveyance process. The inquiry was similar in scope to that described for State Directors of Right-of-Way.

Key observations and findings include:

Best practice opportunities for DOTs are:

FHWA can further help States achieve desired outcomes by removing existing obstacles.

Opportunities and potential next steps for FHWA are:

Updated: 9/5/2014
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