shop   |   eNews   |   find a trail Better Business Bureau Accredited Charity
Share this page:
Seldom-used railroad corridor with adjacent trail in Montana.


Due Diligence – Conducting proper assessments and needed remediation in order to open a trail that is safe for all users.

Right-of-way – A strip of land where property rights can be owned and managed privately (by an individual or entity) or publicly (for use by all).

Trails Glossary and Acronyms


RTC Resources

Fact sheet: Who Actually Owns the Right-of-Way?

Acquiring Rail Corridors: A How to Manual Chapter 1 – "Getting Started" and Chapter 2 – "Assembling Your Team"

Secrets of Successful Rail-Trails pp. 52-53, "Who Actually Owns the Right-of-Way?"

Ask Our Listserv: Learn about trail development from the experts! Join our listserv to be connected to over 1,000 trail managers, advocates, and builders across the country.

For more information, please contact the appropriate regional or national office.


Additional Resources

Trust for Public Land

Land Trust Alliance

National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers, and Treasurers

Appraisal Institute

US Environmental Protection Agency list of state environmental agencies

National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers

National Trails Training Partnership: Legal Agreements for Trails


Acquisition Overview

Explore the latest resources on this topic:

Acquisition in RTC TrailBlog
Acquisition in the Library

Acquiring a rail corridor and transforming it into a trail is not always a simple, straightforward task. The process often requires multiple stages of groundwork, from conducting corridor research to determine who owns or maintains the right-of-way, to figuring the cost, or value, of the corridor, to securing financing or funding options for trail development and maintenance.

What are some of the phases of acquisition?

Who should be involved?

Engaging the appropriate people in your trail project is a necessary step. When you're organizing your project, identify individuals with appropriate skills to catalyze trail development. Some suggested positions and experts include:

  • Project Manager, Lead Negotiator and Spokesperson — These roles may be filled by the same person or separate individuals.
  • Attorney — Few attorneys specialize in railroad law, but you may need to work with a lawyer who practices real estate law.
  • Appraiser — Your state's Comptroller of Treasury may be the official qualified to appraise railroad property. The National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers, and Treasurers has a searchable state directory, and you can also search for an appraiser at the Appraisal Institute.
  • Surveyor
  • Environmental EngineerYour state environmental agency may be able to provide information on toxic remediation and brownfield issues.
  • Historical Preservation SpecialistYour state historical preservation officer is a good resource for information on the historical significance of nearby structures or locations.

You may need to hire a professional to complete some of these responsibilities, but finding community members who support trail development and are willing to volunteer their expertise is ideal. Read more about building your coalition in Chapter 2, "Assembling Your Team" of Acquiring Rail Corridors: A How to Manual .

How can you acquire a railroad corridor for trail use?

Depending on the interest of the railroad and the status of the corridor, there are several methods of acquisition. You may be able to railbank the corridor if it has not yet been abandoned, or consider a rail-with-trail project to share the space. If the corridor has been abandoned already, some of your options include purchase, land lease, easement and land donation.

Acquisition of the corridor may include a bundle of property rights, which may also be physically distinguished as surface, subsurface and air rights. Some trails share corridor use (or property rights) with utility companies. This overlap may be predetermined in the acquisition agreement or leveraged to offset the cost of the trail. Find out more about trails that share corridors with utility companies.

You must also fulfill the due diligence process prior to acquisition. From your preliminary corridor research, you will need to examine the state of the title, survey the property, appraise the corridor, assess structures within the corridor, and complete an environmental assessment. For more information, read Chapter 9, "Due Diligence" in Acquiring Rail Corridors: A How to Manual .

When should you act?

Depending on how you are acquiring the property, timelines may be more urgent. If you're able to use railbanking, refer to the abandonment timeline and procedure. Otherwise, refer to acquisition methods to learn more about different acquisition alternatives.

Return to Toolbox >>

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
The Duke Ellington Building
2121 Ward Ct., NW
5th Floor
Washington, DC 20037