ails-with-trails, which are trails located adjacent to
active rail lines, are valuable assets in providing safe
transportation networks for pedestrians and bicyclists.
This report examines the characteristics of 88 existing rails-
with-trails in 33 states, based on a survey of trail managers and
the results of RTC’s ongoing study. It provides a collection of
data, examples and practical tools to assist trail planners and
advocates in increasing awareness of the rail-with-trail concept,
and advancing local and state policies and practices that sup-
port rail-with-trail development.
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) produced this report to
provide updated information on national rail-with-trail trends.
A continuation of RTC’s efforts to equip trail managers and
advocates with resources to promote and develop rails-with-
trails, this report enhances our rail-with-trail studies published
in 1993, 1996 and 2000, and complements a report produced
by the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT)
in 2002,
Rails-with-Trails: Lessons Learned
Our key findings are that rails-with-trails are safe, common
and increasing in number.
RTC has identified 161 rails-with-trails in 41 states, a sig-
nificant increase from our 2000 report,
Design, Management and Operating Characteristics of 61 Trails
Along Active Rail Lines
which identified 61 rails-with-trails
in 20 states. California has the most rails-with-trails (33), of
which 22 are included in this study. Another 60 rail-with-trail
projects across the country are currently in various stages of
Significantly, our research found only one record of a fatality
involving a rail-with-trail user and a train, and just two reports
of injury, in the 20-year period of our study of the subject.
Given the frequency of injuries and fatalities on railroads out-
side the context of rail-with-trail, this suggests that providing
a well-designed pathway dedicated for cyclists and pedestrians
provides a safe travel alternative and reduces the incentive to
trespass or use the tracks as a shortcut. Such pathways often
include some form of barrier between the trail and the active
railway, and carefully-planned intersections if the trail crosses
the tracks.
The findings of this report demonstrate the excellent safety
record of rails-with-trails. The report also provides guidance for
future development through the examples of a diverse range of
communities which have constructed, and are managing, rails-
with-trails. Eleven case studies from rails-with-trails around the
country are included in the report.
Dual Benefits
Constructing a trail along an active railroad multiplies the
value a community derives from the rail corridor and provides
citizens with transportation options. There is a growing trend
of rail-with-trail development alongside local and regional
transit corridors, such as the popular M-Path in Miami, Fla.,
the extensive BeltLine system being developed in Atlanta, Ga.,
and the new West Rail Line and trail in Denver, Colo. Fifteen
percent of the active rails-with-trails identified in this study are
located adjacent to mass transit corridors.
Range of Designs
Rail-with-trail designs vary widely, depending on factors such
as their proximity to trains, the frequency and speed of rail
service, and the presence of at-grade crossings. A majority of
rails-with-trails in this report have segments of trail that are
within 30 feet of active railroad tracks. More than 80 percent
of respondents to our survey reported that their trail included
a barrier (fence, vegetation or grade separation, for example)
between the trail and tracks. These characteristics are similar to
the rails-with-trails analyzed in RTC’s 2000 report.
Springwater Corridor, Ore. (Bryce Hall)