Kids safely ride their bikes to school on California's Stevens Creek Trail and Wildlife Corridor
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Rail-Trail?
Rail-trails are multi-purpose public paths created from former railroad corridors. Most often flat or following a gentle grade, they traverse urban, suburban and rural America. Ideal for many uses, such as bicycling, walking, inline skating, cross-country skiing, equestrian and wheelchair use, rail-trails are extremely popular as recreation and transportation corridors.
Rail-trails create healthier places for healthier people. They serve as wildlife conservation and historical preservation corridors, stimulate local economies by increasing tourism and promoting local business, offer safe and accessible routes for work and school commuting, and promote active lifestyles for all ages.
What is a Rail-with-Trail?
A rail-with-trail is a public path that runs parallel to a still-active rail line. There are more than 115 rail-with-trails in the country. In this case, the relationship between the trail and the rail is all the more significant. Rail-with-trails are operating under a wide variety of conditions. The rail and trail share an easement and are sometimes separated by extensive fencing. Some trails are adjacent to high-speed, high-frequency trains while others run alongside tourist railroads and slow-moving excursion trains. Rail-with-trails can also provide a unique opportunity for connecting non-motorized transportation with public transportation, such as when a trail leads to a train station.
What is Railbanking?
Railbanking is a provision of the National Trails System Act. It is a voluntary agreement between a railroad company and a trail agency. It 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 preserved more than 4,000 miles of rail corridor in 33 states that otherwise would have been abandoned. There are more than 100 railbanked trails in the United States.
What are the first steps in converting a rail-trail?
First you must determine if the corridor is officially abandoned. A railroad corridor is abandoned when rail service is discontinued, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) officially approves the abandonment, tariffs (pay schedules) are canceled, and the railroad files an abandonment consummation notice with the STB. Status of abandonment can be determined through the rail office of your state Department of Transportation or by contacting the railroad company. After abandonment the railroad company usually removes the tracks and ties for salvage and regrades the corridor with the original ballast left by the railroad. Many trails are later surfaced with asphalt, crushed stone, wood chips or another material appropriate for the intended trail uses. Ideally, bridges and tunnels are left intact so the trail agency need only add wood decking, appropriate railings and other safety features. Road crossings must be properly striped and signed for both trail and road users. Take a look at our Trail-Building Toolbox for help on how to begin the process of building a rail-trail.
Who builds and manages the trail?
In most cases the local, state or federal government agency that buys the corridor builds the trail as well. The agency develops it using its own labor and equipment or hires an independent construction company. In a few cases, groups of citizen volunteers have constructed a trail. Trails are generally managed by public agencies, but some are operated by other types of organizations, including nonprofit "friends of the trail" citizen groups, land trusts and community foundations.
Does Rails-to-Trails Conservancy own trails?
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has acquired more than 650 miles of corridor since 1993 through its Trail Conservancy program. It is never RTC's goal to be a long-term owner or manager of a trail, but in limited situations the Trail Conservancy in the past purchased and held title of a valuable corridor until a public agency was available to take over the ownership and management of that corridor.
Where are the trails located?
RTC has identified more than 1,400 rail-trails, with at least one in every state. An additional 1,100+ are in the works, with new projects beginning each month. For detailed online information about open trails, visit TrailLink.com. For a directory of the country's rail-trails, order RTC's 1,000 Great Rail-Trails, or order one of RTC's series of regional trail guidebooks.