hen RTC began its work in 1986, there were fewer
than 200 known rail-trails in the United States.
Since then, development of trails within former
rail­road corridors has increased across the country. Today, more
than 1,800 rail-trails exist, spread across all 50 states and totaling
more than 21,000 miles. As more communities experience the
economic, health, environmental and historic benefits that trails
offer, the demand for rail-trails and other types of shared use
paths continues to rise. While demand for trails is increasing,
finding uninterrupted and available corridors for trail develop-
ment can be difficult. Placing trails alongside active railroad cor-
ridors is becoming a resourceful and more common method of
securing land for safe, accessible and effective trail development.
Rails-with-trails are shared use paths that are located within
or immediately adjacent to active railroad rights-of-way.
legal right-of-way for one width of railroad track can be as
narrow as the track itself or as wide as a football field, and may
not be readily apparent based on visual observation alone.
Although rail-with-trail development has increased in the past
years, communities considering these facilities as part of
their bicycle and pedestrian systems are still faced with many
of the same challenges that trail managers have contended with
for a long time. Trail builders and advocates need to be equipped
with risk management tools and compelling examples of success­
ful rails-with-trails to help assuage concerns about safety and
liability often expressed by the railroad. In response to this
continued need, and in recognition of the growing popularity
of rails-with-trails, this report provides a range of resources to
help inform and support rail-with-trail development efforts in
a variety of contexts.
Background and Methodology
This report analyzes 88 rails-with-trails and improves upon
the findings presented in RTC’s 2000 report by requiring that
all trails included in the study be within or directly adjacent
to railroad corridors that currently host
active service
Some of
the trails examined in earlier studies were within or alongside
railroad corridors that did not have active rail service, but were
considered “active” because they were not officially abandoned
through the Surface Transportation Board.
Safety and liability issues around potential interactions between
trains and trail users is often the primary concern of railroads
and communities considering rail-with-trail development. To
address these concerns and demonstrate the safety record of
rails-with-trails, this report presents findings from an extensive
survey of 88 rail-with-trail managers, a review of related lit-
erature, an analysis of Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)
data on fatalities that have occurred on railroad corridors, and
case studies. The USDOT publication,
Rails-with-Trails: Lessons
remains the most comprehensive and authoritative re-
source for rail-with-trail development. Findings from this report
serve as a complement to
Lessons Learned
and RTC’s previous
rail-with-trail studies by providing updated information and new
resources for trail managers and advocates interested in rail-with-
trail development and confronted by its unique challenges.
Santa Fe Rail Trail, N.M. (Scott J. Bolanger)