Railroad Policies
Although rails-with-trails have increased across the country
and continue to operate safely and cooperatively with a wide
range of railroad companies and agencies, some trail managers
report that railroads have become more apprehensive about
trail development within their rights-of-way. Some trail man-
agers reported that Class I railroads, in particular, have become
more difficult to negotiate with over the past decade, despite
the precedent of safe rails-with-trails within almost all Class I
railroad systems.
Rails-with-Trails: Lessons Learned
published, railroad companies including CSX,
BNSF and
Union Pacific
have released public policy or guidance docu-
ments that explicitly discourage rail-with-trail development in
their corridors. However, some trail managers indicated that
these railroad companies have agreed to corridor access for trail
development under specific circumstances.
There are recent examples of public rail authorities or trans-
portation agencies that openly support rail-with-trail devel-
opment as a matter of policy. These authorities have created
design guidance that addresses rail-with-trail elements like
setbacks and fencing, or have implemented agency-wide rec-
ommendations to improve safety at pedestrian-rail crossings.
As of 2013, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation
has adopted a policy to “permit the construction
of shared-use paths along active or planned railroad rights-
of-way provided appropriate fencing separates the two uses.”
Previously MassDOT considered rail-with-trail development
within their rights-of-way on a case-by-case basis; this new
policy demonstrates the agency’s commitment to developing
multi-modal transportation facilities. In Pennsylvania, the
Susquehanna Economic Development Association-Council of
Governments (SEDA-COG) Joint Rail Authority adopted a
policy in 2001 to address rail-with-trail standards for setback
and fencing. Although SEDA-COG is generally opposed to
rail-with-trail development, they will consider projects on a
case-by-case basis if design standards can be met (i.e., setback
and fencing requirements, no new at grade crossings permit-
ted). In 2012, the New Jersey Department of Transportation
NJDOT) and New Jersey Transit Corporation (NJ TRAN-
SIT) adopted a “Short Term Action Plan” that addressed
pedestrian safety along railroad corridors in recognition of the
consistent number of pedestrian fatalities occurring along NJ
TRANSIT corridors and crossings. Notable recommended
actions included creation of a pilot program to enhance
engineering safety treatments at grade crossings, expanding
resources for existing rail safety diagnostics, and additional
consideration of Safe Routes to School (SRTS) grant applica-
tions near rail crossings and rail lines. These types of state and
regional policies and actions provide models for other public
agencies that are considering ways to encourage safe and acces-
sible rail-with-trail development.
Schuylkill River Trail, Pa. (Boyd Loving)