In 2012, RTC contacted more than 100 trail managers to
request their participation in this study. Some trail managers
completed an online survey and others provided response via
telephone interviews conducted by RTC staff between Febru-
ary and April, 2013. Survey and interview findings included re-
sponses from 76 trail managers in addition to 12 trail managers
who participated in a 2009 study produced by RTC’s Western
California Rails-with-Trails: A Survey of Trails
Along Active Rail Lines.
Survey questions were developed using
a combination of questions from RTC’s 2000 study, the 2009
California rail-with-trail study, and from RTC staff. Several
open ended questions allowed participants to provide more
detail about their relationship with the railroad, challenges
they faced, and successful strategies for acquisition, design and
construction. Report findings were reflective of the experience
of trail developers and advocates; the authors and interview-
ers had little direct contact with the railroad industry. These
findings are summarized in Section IV, and detailed survey
responses are available online.
There exists no comprehensive database of incidents or fatali-
ties on rails-with-trails. In researching fatality data for this
report, RTC completed thorough searches of news and legal
reports using Lexis and Westlaw research systems, mined exist-
ing FRA data, conducted interviews with trail managers across
the country, and drew upon information compiled by more
than 20 years of extensive involvement with trail projects and
trail managers in every state.
Using this Report
Designed to assist trail planners, advocates and managers, this re-
port intends to present the experience of rail-with-trail managers
and provide applicable tools to help answer questions such as:
Are rails-with-trails safe?
Will a rail-with-trail work in our community?
How do we design our rail-with-trail to make it safe and
How can we work cooperatively with the railroad company?
How do we address liability issues?
What can we learn from the experience of other rails-with-
This report can also be used to make the case for rail-with-
trail development to elected officials, representatives of state
and local transportation and planning departments, railroad
companies, consultants, and anyone interested in the rail-with-
Additional online resources are available at
org/railwithtrail. RTC will continue to monitor online re-
sources and correspond with trail managers to provide updated
rails-with-trails data and information, including accident and
fatality data. Contact
to share your
Growth of Rails-with-Trails
The growth and popularity of rails-with-trails is similar to the
growth of traditional rail-trails. There are currently more than
rail-trails in the U.S., totalling more than 21,000 miles.
RTC’s trails database indicates there are as many as 161 rails-with-
trails in 41 states, representing approximately 9 percent of the
total number of rail-trails in the country.
RTC reports of 1996
and 2000 analyzed 37 and 61 rails-with-trails, respectively.
This report examines the characteristics of 88 rails-with-trails
that are along active railroad corridors hosting regular rail ser-
vice. For a complete list of trails included in this report and a
list of other known rails-with-trails in the U.S., see Appendices.
At least 60 more rails-with-trails are known to currently be in
various stages of development. Select rail-with-trail projects are
highlighted in Case Studies, Section V.
The total mileage of rails-with-trails has also increased over the
past decade. The total mileage of trails located completely or
partially along active railroad corridors is 1,397 miles, up from
miles in 2000. Not all rails-with-trails run along or within
active rail lines for their entire length. Of the 820 total miles
of trail inventoried in this study, 321 miles (39 percent) are
adjacent to active railroad corridors. A majority (63 percent)
of the 88 trails examined have more than half of their length
along active railroads, with the range of “rail-with-trail length”
varying between 0.07–22 miles.
Rails-with-Trails in the United States
Total Trail Length
Percent parallel to
active rail line (miles)
of states with