his report provides a collection of data, examples and practical tools to
increase awareness of the rail-with-trail concept, and to supply trail planners
and advocates with resources to advance local and state policies that supports
rail-with-trail development. Findings from this study, used together with RTC’s
previous rail-with-trail report,
and USDOT’s
Trails: Lessons Learned
should equip trail managers and advocates with a
valuable set of resources to encourage rail-with-trail development in communities
across the country. Rails-with-trails that are well-designed to enhance trail user
safety and accessibility, and address railroad concerns, can provide many mutual
benefits to communities and railroads.
Despite continued liability and safety concerns about collocating trails and active
railroad corridors, our interview and survey results reveal that rail-with-trail develop-
ment has increased at a steady rate, and many more projects are being planned.
Furthermore, rail-with-trail facilities continue to maintain excellent safety records.
In nearly two decades of studying rails-with-trails, there is only one known fatality
involving a trail user and a train. Incorporating well-designed rail-with-trail develop-
ment along active railroad corridors that frequently deal with pedestrian trespassers
can provide a separated, safe facility to control pedestrian travel and effectively
reduce dangerous or fatal accidents within the corridor.
The reported data also demonstrate that the acquisition, design, and operating
characteristics of rails-with-trails continue to be very diverse. Some trails are built
within feet of active railroad tracks, and others are separated from the tracks by a
greater distance. Some trails exist parallel to railroad corridors with a high frequency
of service and train speeds of more than 50 mph, while others experience intermit-
tent rail service at low speeds. Some trails have constructed barriers that physically
separate trail users and trains, and other trails operate safely without a separation
between trail and rail. This wide variety of design and management characteristics
demonstrates that rails-with-trails can be successfully planned and developed under
many different environmental and political conditions.
Responses from the 88 trail managers included in this study indicate that more
rails-with-trails are being developed in publicly owned corridors, including regional
transit and light rail systems. This may be a growing trend as more communities
explore ways to develop and improve well-connected and accessible multi-modal
transportation systems.
While many of the liability reduction and risk management tools presented in
Rails-with-Trails: Lessons Learned
remain unchanged, amendments to some states’
Recreational Use Statutes demonstrate new state legislative efforts to encourage rail-
with-trail development. Additionally, policies implemented by state agencies and
regional authorities, and the development of specific design guidelines or standards
that accommodate trail users while addressing the concerns of the railroad, point to
an increased awareness of the value of rails-with-trails.
More communities across the U.S. are seeking ways to encourage active transporta-
tion by developing safe and accessible bicycle, pedestrian and trail systems. Rails-
with-trails can be vital to creating and completing trail networks.
Eastern Promenade Trail, Maine
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy)
Cedar Lake Trail, Minn. (Simon Blenski)
Trolley Trail, Iowa (Michael Johns)
Springfield River Walk, Mass.
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy)