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 Rail Trails are on railbanked lines. VTrans, 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, VTrans 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.
What Is Railbanking?
Railbanking, enacted in 1983, is a provision of the original National Trails System Act of 1968. It is a voluntary agreement between a railroad company and a trail agency, which enables the agency to use an out-of-service rail corridor as a trail until a railroad might need the corridor again for rail service. Because a railbanked corridor is not considered abandoned, it can be sold, leased, or donated to a trail manager without reverting to adjacent landowners.
Railbanking has been responsible for preserving thousands of miles of rail corridors across the country. To date, more than 350 rail corridors (43 states plus Washington D.C.) have been railbanked, with more than 160 trails open partially or fully on railbanked corridors 4.
Read more about railbanking.
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)