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What is a Rails-to-Trails Case?
Rails-to-Trails is a shorthand term referring to the conversion of an abandoned railway into a public recreational trail. The National Trails System Act permits the conversion of abandoned railways into recreational trails, providing a more functional current use for the property, while also preserving the railroad right-of-way in case the railway is needed for use as a railroad again in the future; a process known as “railbanking.”
How Does a Railway Become a Recreational Trail?
A railroad applies to the Surface Transportation Board (STB) for approval to abandon a railway. Once the STB approves the abandonment, a trail sponsor files a trail use request with the STB, asking that the abandonment be converted into public recreational trail use.
- What is a Rails-to-Trails Case?
- How Does a Railway Become a Recreational Trail?
- Why Am I Entitled to Compensation?
- What is a Taking Under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution?
- How Do You Know if the Railroad Only Had an Easement Over My Property?
- How Much Of My Property Can Be Taken?
- Will this cost me?
Why Am I Entitled to Compensation?
Under the law of most states, if the railroad had initially acquired only an easement over the property for railroad purposes, then once a railway is abandoned, the easement should be extinguished, and the property should revert to the adjoining landowners.
However, reversion of the property in these instances is blocked by the recreational trail use. Instead, a new easement is created for a recreational trail over the property where the railway used to exist. Federal courts consider the creation of this new easement to be a taking under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
What is a Taking Under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution?
The United States Supreme Court ruled that the National Trails System Act was constitutional because the federal government has the power of eminent domain: the right to seize your private property for a public purpose (taking). However, being that the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides, “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation,” the federal courts ruled that property owners whose land is taken as a result of the National Trails System Act must be compensated.
How Do You Know if the Railroad Only Had an Easement Over My Property?
Our team compare maps available at the National Archives with the current map of your property to determine which railroad deed is applicable to you, then obtain a copy of and review the deed to determine what interest the railroad may have acquired. If maps are not available at the National Archives or if it is not clear from the maps which railroad deed is applicable to your property, our team traces your chain of title all the way back to the date the railroad was constructed to find the deed.
How Much of My Property Can Be Taken?
The taking is limited to the original size of the railway.
Will this cost me?
No. Our team takes every case on a contingency fee, which means we only get paid if we win your case. If our team wins your case, our fee is a percentage of the award. If our team loses your case or, after investigation, feel you do not have a claim, we will simply notify you that we no longer represent you. You will never receive a bill from us.