What Is a Rail-Trail?
Rail-trails are multi-purpose public paths created from former railroad corridors. These paths are flat or gently sloping, making them easily accessible and a great way to enjoy the outdoors. 1 The four state-owned, AOT maintained Rail Trails are on railbanked lines. AOT, on behalf of the State of Vermont, holds the right-of-way to rail lines approved for railbanking and interim trail use as authorized by the Surface Transportation Board under the Federal Trails Act (16 U.S.C. § 1247(d)) 2 or by the Vermont Secretary of Transportation under Vermont’s own railbanking statue (5 V.S.A. § 3408) 3. By law, AOT is required to hold such railbanked lines for “reactivation of railroad service or for other public purposes not inconsistent with future reactivation of railroad service.” 5 V.S.A. § 3408; see also 49 C.F.R. § 1152.29(a). Uses of a railbanked corridor other than strictly for trail purposes is permitted, so long as future reactivation of the line is not impacted. Read more about railbanking.
Special Use Permit
Vermont rail trails can be a great place for events of all types. Whether it is a 5K, bike-a-thon, dogsled race, or season-long research project, all events need to obtain a no-cost Special Use Permit (SUP). The SUP is an agreement between the applicant and the Vermont Agency of Transportation (the owner and manager of the rail line). The permit is a way for us to make sure that we know when an event is being held on the trail, that it doesn’t overlap with other events or maintenance activities, and to combat any adverse impacts from an event. An event will require a permit if it meets any one of these conditions:
- The event is publicized ahead of time.
- Participants are charged a fee, or the event is a fundraiser.
- The event makes any temporary alterations to the trail.
- The event may conflict with or obstruct other users.
- The event size exceeds 15 people.
- The event includes research activities and/or demonstration projects.
Any needs for parking, event space, traffic control at state and/or local road crossings, etc., need to be permitted by the appropriate authority. The applicant is required to provide evidence of all other relevant permits and/or permissions as part of the SUP application. These must be received prior to the SUP effective date. Additional terms and conditions can be found in the Rail Trail Special Use Permit Application.
How do I get a Special Use Permit?
Download a copy pf the State Rail Trail Special Use Permit Guidance and Application, fill it out completely, and submit it to Jackie Cassino (Jackie.Cassino@vermont.gov), AOT’s State Rail Trails Program Manager. Once received, it will be reviewed, and if approved, a permit will be issued. Please contact us with any questions regarding the permit process.
Operating on the Rail Trail?
Interested in a more permanent activity on a rail trail? Examples of this may include, but are not limited to: operating a business on a rail trail; establishing a new driveway crossing to a residence or business; creating a connection to a local trail network; and/or leasing a parcel of land for a trailhead, art installation, commercial or agricultural business. You’ll need to enter into an agreement with AOT for these activities. The type and cost of the agreement will vary depending on use type and square footage or acreage occupied. For more information on rail trail agreements, review the Rail Property Management FAQs and forms on the AOT website.
Trailside Facility Design Guidelines
The purpose of the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail (LVRT) Trailside Facility Design Guidelines is to convey best practices for design, engineering, and performance specifications of trailside facilities. The Trailside Facility Design Guidelines build on the trailhead typicals, amenity themes, and graphics guide that are outlined in the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail Management Plan. The purpose of the LVRT Management Plan was to articulate a cohesive, community defined vision for the completed rail trail system and identify strategies to support the management, maintenance, operations, community connections, and economic development opportunities along the trail. The Management Plan was adopted in September 2022 by the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans).
The Trailside Facility Design Guidelines can be viewed here:
Rail Trails Signage
From supporting safety to positively impacting the local economy, signs are a critical piece of Rail Trail infrastructure. Rail trail specific signs are diverse, reflecting their function and include directional signs, trailhead signs, trailhead kiosks, mile markers, historic markers and interpretive signs, regulatory and warning signs, and community wayfinding signs. Rail Trail sign type, placement, size, text, and material are regulated by the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities (AASHTO Bike Guide), and Vermont State Sign Law 10.V.S.A. § 495.
More details can be found in the:
2 – 16 U.S.C. § 1247(d) states, ” then the Board shall impose such terms and conditions as a requirement of any transfer or conveyance for interim use in a manner consistent with this chapter, and shall not permit abandonment or discontinuance inconsistent or disruptive of such use.” 1247(d). For art proposed on railbanked lines, VTrans shall review all “terms and conditions” imposed by Board prior to approving proposals.
3 – 5 V.S.A. § 3408 states that the Agency, on behalf of the State, shall continue to hold the right-of-way of a railbanked line for reactivation of railroad service or for other public purposes not inconsistent with future reactivation of railroad service. Such railbanking shall not be treated, for purposes of any law or rule of law, as an abandonment of the use of the rights-of-way for railroad purposes.” 3408(a).
4 – Rails to Trails Conservancy. History of Rail-Trails | History of RTC | Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (railstotrails.org)