July 28th, 2020 — In

A Primer on the Federal Trails Act

This Article is written by Owners’ Counsel of America for general informational purposes only.  It is intended to assist landowners in understanding some of the basic aspects of the federal Trails Act and rails-to-trails taking claims.  This Article is not to be viewed as providing legal advice or to be considered as a substitute for consulting with an experienced eminent domain lawyer on the matters covered herein. First, some history…. The development of rail lines allowed America to expand across the entire continent.  But by 1980, when Congress loosened restrictions on a railroad’s right to abandon non-productive rail lines, the railroad industry was financially strapped and in decline. Once the restrictions were lifted, the rate of rail abandonments by major carriers accelerated dramatically across the country.  As the Supreme Court observed, “In 1920, the Nation’s railway system reached its peak of 272,000 miles; [but by 1990] only about 141,000 miles [were] in use, and experts predict that 3,000 miles will be abandoned every year through the end of [the 20th] century.” Preseault v. I.C.C., 494 U.S. 1, 8 (1990). The amount of land at stake was considerable, since railroad corridors often include the land within fifty to one-hundred feet on either side of the railroad tracks.  This translates to millions of acres nationwide. What is the Federal Trails Act? In the early 1980s, concerned about losing railroad corridors to abandonment should the need for their use arise in the future, Congress devised a scheme whereby railroad corridors could be preserved, […]

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