RTC Supports Railbanking... Again
As railroad service became less profitable in the 1960s and '70s, thousands of miles of rail corridor fell out of use. In response to concerns about how to protect these rail beds, the U.S. Congress amended the National Trails System Act (NTSA) in 1983 to include a railbanking law (Section 8(d)). Railbanking allows an out-of-use railroad corridor to be converted for interim trail use, thereby preserving the corridor until such time as rail service is deemed feasible or necessary again. Railbanking not only allows the construction of trails for public use, but it preserves these scenic corridors—and the incredible initial investment and labor of building them—for posterity.
Soon after the NTSA was passed, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) was founded to aid in the railbanking process and provide technical assistance to communities across the country. RTC has defended railbanking from legislative attacks on numerous occasions, including testifying at a 2006 congressional hearing.
Most recently, on July 8, 2009, the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) held a hearing, titled "Twenty-Five Years of Rail Banking: A Review and Look Ahead." Marianne Fowler, RTC's senior vice president of federal relations, testified at the hearing.
Supported by a beautiful scrolling slideshow of rail-trails around the country, Fowler defended the significant benefits railbanking has already produced, and she stressed the need for more to be done to preserve future corridors through railbanking:
In short, 5,079 miles saved as a part of our federally railbanked corridor system; 9,105 miles lost. If we were playing baseball, a .358 average would be exceptional. When playing with our nation's future, the loss of two thirds of what could have been saved does not constitute success. [Railbanking] has performed wonderfully as a trail-building tool. Its effectiveness as an instrument of corridor preservation demands improvement.
Finally, Fowler included a set of four specific steps that the STB should consider to improve the feasibility of railbanking:
- Lengthen the timeframe between notice of abandonment and effective date of abandonment (the time within which public agencies have to act to secure the necessary approvals to initiate railbanking negotiations);
- Re-examine the required language for filing statements of willingness, and the breadth of the interim trail manager's required assumption of liability;
- Lengthen to one year (instead of 180 days) the amount of time available for interim trail use negotiations; and
- Make railbanking mandatory instead of discretionary, thereby preserving all corridors that are no longer profitable as rail service and preventing their eventual loss.
Read Fowler's full testimony, and you can access a video of the entire hearing on the STB Web site (Fowler's testimony begins approximately eight minutes into the hearing).