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The Minuteman Bikeway in Massachusetts is a very popular railbanked trail.
 

Definitions

Railbanking
Condition allowing a railroad to "bank" a corridor for future rail use if necessary. During the interim, alternative trail use is a viable option.

Trails glossary and acronyms.

 

RTC Resources

Be the First to Know! Sign up to receive railroad corridor abandonment notices for your area via RTC's Early Warning System.

Acquiring Rail Corridors: A How-To Manual, Chapter 6, "Can You Take Advantage of Railbanking?"

Secrets of Successful Rail-Trails , Chapter 7, "What to Do if the Line is Soon to be Abandoned"

Railbanking Fact Sheet

Railbanking and Rail-Trails: A Legacy for the Future

"Rails-to-Trails Conversions: A Review of Legal Issues" by Andrea Ferster

More on RTC website about railbanking...

Ask Our Listserv
Learn about trail development from the experts! Join our listserv to be connected to over 900 trail managers, advocates, and builders across the country.

Visit RTC's Trails and Greenways Publication Library

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

 

Additional Resources

Surface Transportation Board: Public Information: Resources: Rails-to-Trails

General Accounting Office (GAO): "Issues Related to Preserving Inactive Rail Lines as Trails"

American Trails: Rails-to-Trails

The National Park Service: The National Trails System Act

 

Railbanking

How to Railbank – Abandonment Timeline and Procedure

Explore the latest resources on this topic:

Railbanking in RTC TrailBlog
Railbanking in the Library

Railbanking takes place during the rail corridor abandonment process. Official negotiations with the railroad begin after the railroad submits an initial notification to abandon the line (similar to a letter of intent to abandon) to the Surface Transportation Board (STB). Negotiations end with either railbanking or line abandonment.

Since railbanking is a pre-abandonment strategy, you will be dealing with either the legal or the asset management departments of the railroad company. These departments, more than the real estate department, may have a better understanding of how a bulk sale to a trail group can benefit a railroad. Since you and the railroad negotiator have a common interest in corridor preservation, playing to this shared goal can provide you some leverage. Otherwise, as soon as a corridor is abandoned and assigned to the real estate department for liquidation, maximizing the sale price becomes the overriding railroad objective.

Railroads must follow one of three abandonment procedures that the STB has developed: Regulated Abandonment (the most stringent and least common), Individual Exemption or Class Exemption. Railroads that follow the Individual Exemption procedure will file a Petition for Exemption, which is used when the transaction is of "limited scope," or when regulation of the transaction is "not needed to protect the shippers from the abuse of market power." Class Exemptions, currently the most common option, apply if the line has not been in use for two or more years, or if the STB finds there is no vital interest in continuing rail service on that line.

All abandonment proceedings are assigned a docket number, which is used to catalogue all filings from the railroad and decisions from the STB. When searching the STB Web site or contacting the library for specific filings, it's helpful to know the docket number associated with the particularabandonment procedure so you can track progress and information most efficiently. These docket numbers begin with the letters "AB" (for abandonment procedure) and are followed by a number that indicates which railroad company has filed for abandonment. A sub-number (Sub-No.) is then assigned to the specific case. The full docket number for a regulated abandonment might look like this: AB-16 (Sub-No. 200). Individual and Class Exemption applications are slightly different because they have docket numbers ending with the letter "X," such as "AB-16 (Sub-No. 200X)."

Exemptions are currently the most common abandonment process. And due to the quick nature of this process, groups interested in acquiring the corridor for trail use may want to approach the railroad before the abandonment process begins, or conduct preliminary research to determine whether the rail line is officially abandoned or still active. Below you will find guidelines for both Class and Individual Exemptions including the STB timeline for railbanking a Class Exemption, in which case the railroad files a Notice of Exemption with the STB.

Class Exemption Timeline: Response to a Notice of Exemption Filing

This breakdown allows you to see WHEN each action takes place and WHO is responsible for the action or filing submissions.

WHEN:
10 days prior to abandonment filing
WHO:
Railroad
The railroad sends a notification to the State Service Board (or equivalent agency).

WHEN:
Day of abandonment filing
WHO:
Railroad
A petition for abandonment exemption (Notice of Exemption) is filed with the STB. To search for filings, visit the STB web site and click on the drop down menu: E-Library > Filings or sign up for RTC's Early Warning System.

WHEN:
30 days after abandonment filing
WHO:
Agency/organization interested in trail development
A request for a Notice of Interim Trail Use (NITU) is filed with the STB, and a letter is sent to the railroad's legal department applying for abandonment authorization. This request should also include a "Statement of Willingness to Assume Financial Responsibility" and a request to establish a "Public Use Condition" (PUC). By filing a "Statement of Willingness to Assume Financial Responsibility," you are merely indicating that you are capable of assuming financial responsibility should your agency and the railroad reach mutually agreeable terms for the transfer of the corridor. This is not a contract, and your agency is under no obligation to acquire the corridor. A PUC prevents the railroad from selling or otherwise disposing of any property or trail-related structures, including bridges, tunnels or culverts for a 180-day period from the effective date of abandonment. Since a railroad may not agree to a railbanking negotiation, requesting a PUC, which the STB will grant fairly automatically, may buy additional time to convince the railroad to negotiate with you.

WHEN:
40 days after abandonment filing
WHO:
Railroad
Once the railroad has received the agency/organization's letter expressing the desire to negotiate for railbanking, the railroad has 10 days to decide whether to participate in a discussion and to notify the STB.

WHEN:
50 days after abandonment filing
WHO:
Another railroad interested in acquisition
Within 50 days of the abandonment filing, it is possible for another railroad to submit an Offer of Financial Assistance (OFA), which means another railroad is willing to purchase the line; this intervention trumps railbanking. But if no ITU, PUC or OFA has been filed within 50 days of the abandonment filing, then the railroad may consummate abandonment of the line.

WHEN:
110 days after abandonment filing
WHO:
STB
If the railroad agrees to negotiate and submits a letter to the STB, then the STB will issue an "NITU" (Notice of Interim Trail Use), which along with the PUC "stays" the abandonment for an initial 180 day period. Both parties can use this time to reach an agreement, and either the railroad or trail group may extend the 180-day NITU to continue negotiations if an agreement has not yet been reached. The STB tends to be generous with extensions as it is in their best interest to keep the rail system intact.

End of Negotiations
If the negotiations are successful and the parties agree on a price, then the railroad will pass over a deed to the trail group, similar to any land acquisition. At this point, the railroad files a consummation notice with the STB, which will officially railbank the corridor. If the negotiations are unsuccessful and the railroad decides to abandon the corridor, they must also file a consummation notice with the STB.

Individual Exemptions
The railroad will file a "Petition of Exemption" if they are seeking an Individual Exemption. Groups interested in pursuing railbanking will need to file a "Certificate of Interim Trail Use" (CITU), and the timeline for abandonment in an Individual Exemption is the same as for Class Exemptions. The only difference is that the STB retains the right to request further information from third parties in an Individual Exemption. For more information on abandonment proceedings, including regulated abandonments, refer to the STB manual, OVERVIEW: Abandonments and Alternatives to Abandonments and view a sample Interim Trail Use Agreement (CITU or NITU).

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