Thursday, May 21, 2009

"Banking rails" for national trails: A new look by the STB

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The Surface Transportation Board has scheduled a public hearing for July 8 at its headquarters in Washington, D. C., "to examine the impact, effectiveness, and future of rail banking" under the National Trails System Act. (www.stb.dot.gov)

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"In brief, the Trails Act and the board's implementing regulations give interested parties the opportunity to negotiate voluntary agreements to use for recreational trails railroad rights-of-way that otherwise would be abandoned," the STB said in a notice served Thursday. "The trail sponsor must agree to assume responsibility for managing the trail, for paying property taxes on the right-of-way, and for any liability inconnection with trail use. In turn, the rail carrier may salvage its track and discontinue service on the line. If the parties reach a Trails Act agreement, the right-of-way can be used as a trail until (if ever) a rail carrier decides to restore service on the line."

Since the program began 25 years ago, the STB says it has issued "numerous" decisions authorizing interim rail use and has also authorized nine rail-banked lines for the restoration of rail service.

The hearing now scheduled on the program's future arises out of "an increasing number of questions brought to the board informally."

Formally, the board has pending a proposal involving R. J. Corman Railroad Co./Pennsylvania Lines Inc. in Clearfield County ,Pa., to construct and operate over 10 miles of a previously abandoned right-of-way and reactivate a 9.3-mile portion of a connecting rail-banked line. STB has been informally asked "who would be responsible for bearing the cost of rebuilding a railroad bridge removed during interim trail use if active rail service should ever be restored."

This is one of the questions STB will tackle as it seeks to determine how successful rail-banking has been for both carriers and trail users.