Communities wishing to convert rail corridors into multi-use trails sometimes find themselves in the difficult position of dealing with known, potential or perceived contamination along a railroad corridor. However, contamination does not usually prevent the development of rail-trails as long as necessary steps are taken to ensure safety to trail users.
What types of contamination are along rail corridors? The type and extent of contamination falls into two general categories: residual contamination that may be found along any stretch of corridor, and contamination associated with industrial uses along the corridor. When acquiring a railroad, you will want to be aware of the following contaminants:
- Railroad ties, usually treated with chemicals such as creosote
- Spilled or leaked liquids such as oil, gasoline, cleaning solvents, etc.
- Fossil fuel combustion products (PAHs)
- Roofing shingles (asbestos)
- Air compressors
- Transformers and Capacitors
Steps to take
- Conduct due diligence and inventory potential hazards along the corridor. This could include a Phase I and Phase II environmental assessment.
- Analyze the potential adverse health effects caused by found substances.
- Determine what, if any, mitigation steps need to be taken and examine the risks and benefits of remedial alternatives.
- Provide information needed by regulators and the public.
- Design and route the trail to avoid dangers.
- Follow state and federal laws.
- Create a comprehensive management plan that includes risk management for the open trail.
- A qualified person should regularly inspect the trail to identify potential hazards and maintenance problems.vWhen needed use signage and fencing to protect trail users.
For more information refer to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's report, Understanding Environmental Contaminants: Lessons Learned and Guidance to Keep Your Rail-Trail Project on Track .
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