America’s Rails-with-Trails
Of the rails-with-trails surveyed, 28 percent are located adja-
cent to rail corridors owned by Class I railroads (see p.17 for
railroad classifications). Class I railroads continue to express
formal opposition to the concept of trail development within
or adjacent to their corridors. However, numerous smaller
private railroad companies and public rail authorities have
reached agreements with trail managers on rail-with-trail
development that have satisfactorily addressed any concerns
about risk and liability. The majority (51 percent) of rail-with-
trail project managers interviewed for this study indicated that
the railroads were not opposed to trail development, and 44
percent of trail managers described the current attitude of the
railroad as positive (i.e., cooperative, supportive or favorable).
Liability/Risk Management
The vast majority of the rails-with-trails included in this report
are insured by an existing local umbrella policy, similar to most
rail-trails and greenways. A substantial proportion of the trail
managers surveyed responded that no indemnification was
required by the railroad or was included in the easement or
license agreement. Slightly fewer trail managers reported that
indemnification was required. Recent amendments to the Rec-
reational Use Statutes (RUS) (which provide exemption from
liability for private landowners allowing public recreational use
of their land) of Virginia and Maine are notable state legislative
efforts to encourage rail-with-trail development. Significantly,
in the only known case of a trail user struck and killed by a
train while on a rail-with-trail, the court found neither the trail
manager nor the railroad liable due to the protections provided
by the state’s RUS. Responses to this study indicated that there
were no successful claims made against the railroad or trail
manager due to train- and trail-related incidents.
Rails-with-trails continue to demonstrate a strong safety re-
cord. Their increasing adoption has resulted in more opportu-
nities to provide safe and intentional alternatives to trespassing
on tracks. Rails-with-trails have become a common part of the
American trails landscape, representing nearly 10 percent of
rail-trails, and the number is growing rapidly across the coun-
try. Americans increasingly demand that trails connect to form
systems and that they be given balanced transportation options
that include safe and healthy places to walk and ride. Taking
full advantage of corridors to facilitate both rail and active
transportation, as rails-with-trails do, is a smart and efficient
step in that direction.
Charlotte Trolley Rail-with-Trail, N.C. (Nancy Pierce)