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Abandoned railroad corridor in Maryland.

RTC Resources

Acquiring Rail Corridors: A How-To Manual, Chapter 5, "Researching the Property"

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

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Additional Resources

Creating Connections: The Pennsylvania Greenways and Trails How-To Manual, Chapter 11, "Conducting Property Research"


Corridor Research

An Overview of Conducting Property Research for Railroad Corridors

Explore the latest resources on this topic:

Corridor Research in RTC TrailBlog
Corridor Research in the Library

Researching the railroad right-of-way, or corridor, is a good place to begin assessing the potential for trail development. First, determining the corridor status (active or abandoned) will help you decide on a course of action. Later, as the trail project develops, conducting an environmental assessment may be necessary as well. Collect as much information on the trail corridor as possible, as you can leverage this data to educate those working on the trail project, adjacent landowners, community members and local leadership.

Contact your local government or state rail authority (through state department of transportation) to verify information like:

Who owns the land

The railroad probably has only the original deeds under which it acquired the corridor, but all title information must be locally recorded. So you can research that information in local land records, including any zoning ordinances, subdivision rules, or other restrictions on the use of the property.

History of the corridor

Does the corridor have any historically significant built structures like tunnels and bridges? Communities adjacent to the corridor can be good starting points to locate important historical and cultural resources relevant to the history of the corridor and railroad activity, which may have been central to commerce, tourism and growth. Likewise, State Historic Preservation Officers often maintain information about buildings, structures or geographic locations recognized for their historic value, or sites that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Condition of the corridor

The corridor is local, yet the railroad's property manager's office is almost certainly not in the local area. In fact, it is highly likely that the railroad's representative(s), who is responsible for hundreds, if not thousands of miles of track, may have never actually seen the corridor. So it's wise for you to obtain permission from the railroad to conduct your own accurate, on-the-ground inspection.

Taxes and charges of the corridor

The railroad probably pays local real estate taxes and complies with other local ordinances. These records are all public and may provide clues as to how the local tax assessor's office values the corridor.

The county assessor's office and city planning department are also good places to begin property research. Your state trail coordinator can offer helpful information, as well, about other existing or previous trail development efforts for the corridor.

Throughout this gathering process, you should organize an inventory of trail resources, connections and community impacts. This inventory should include:

  • Potential access points to the trail;
  • Economic impacts of the trail on the community;
  • Connections to schools, neighborhoods and other community activity centers.

After your initial research, you will then be able to consider different methods of acquisition.

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