Rail-with-Trail Studies
he most comprehensive resource on rail-with-trail development is
with-Trails: Lessons Learned
prepared by Alta Planning and Design for the
USDOT in 2002; it remains the most definitive resource on rails-with-trails
with regard to the trail development process, design and operation. Drawing from
research of 21 rails-with-trails (16 existing and 5 planned, at the time of publica-
tion) and including findings from RTC’s
Rails-with-Trails: Design, Management and
Operating Characteristics of 61 Trails Along Active Rail Lines
Lessons Learned
highlights design best practices and provides information pertaining
to the process of rail-with-trail development and operational aspects (e.g., acquisition,
stakeholder involvement, maintenance, railroad safety education and outreach, etc.).
Currently there are no national standards or guidelines prescribed to the design and
development of rails-with-trails. Trail planners must reference a combination of
standards for shared use paths, pedestrian facilities, railroad facilities and roadway
crossings of railroad rights-of-way.
Rails-with-Trails: Lessons Learned
continues to be
referenced in state and local trail guidelines and in individual trail master plans, and
should be consulted with other national standards on bicycle/pedestrian facilities
and railroad crossings and design elements to achieve safe, accessible rail-with-trail
development. Many rail-with-trail projects necessitate that trail planners work
cooperatively with the adjacent railroad to ensure the trail also reflects standards set
by the railroad and its regulatory bodies. The challenge of rail-with-trail design is to
meet the operational needs of the railroad while enhancing the experience of trail users.
Since the publication of
Rails-with-Trails: Lessons Learned
state and local transporta-
tion departments have included reference of rails-with-trails in their design guidance
documents. Several documents from California provide useful examples of how
public agencies can create or incorporate rail-with-trail guidance for policy and
procedure manuals. California’s North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) created
and adopted a Policy and Procedures Manual in 2009 to “provide uniform and
consistent standards on NCRA’s rights-of-way for the design, construction, safety,
operations and maintenance of Rails-with-Trails Projects.” This direction requires
compliance with current standards set by the California Department of Transporta-
tion (Caltrans), railroad operators, USDOT’s
Manual on Uniform Traffic Control
MUTCD), and other applicable agencies and authorities.
manual also suggests consulting
Rails-with-Trails: Lessons Learned
and the
Guide for
the Development of Bicycle Facilities
prepared by the American Association of State
Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). Similarly, the Southern Cali-
fornia Regional Rail Authority (SCRRA) adopted rail-with-trail design guidelines
in 2010.
At the state level, Caltrans includes a section on rails-with-trails in their
guidance document,
Pedestrian and Bicycle Facilities in California: A Technical
Reference and Technology Transfer Synthesis for Caltrans Planners and Engineers
rail-with-trail design is addressed in
Trail Planning for California Communities
reference for trail planners in state, regional and local agencies.
A recent study by the Illinois Center for Transportation,
Pedestrian/Bicyclist Warning
Devices and Signs at Highway-Rail and Pathway-Rail Grade Crossings
to the growing body of knowledge related to rail-with-trail guidance and best
The American Association of State
Highway and Transportation Officials
Guide for the Development
of Bicycle Facilities
th edition, 2012)
provides guidance for “Railroad Grade
Crossings” in section 4.12.1, addressing
crossing angle, surfaces, bikeway width
and flange opening.
The 2009 edition of the
Manual on
Uniform Traffic Control Devices
includes guidance for shared use path­
ways that cross railroad corridors at
grade. See Chapter 8D. Pathway Grade