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Author Topic: Abandoned Lines  (Read 5803 times)
Bill Baker

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« on: June 02, 2010, 02:45:37 PM »

Is there any legal difference when a railroad abandons its lines as compared with its right-of-way? In particular is a railroad under any obligation to remove the rails or can they be left in place?  I thought they were one and the same.  This question arose when a friend of mine was over for an operation session and I mentioned that I had a short section of abandoned line in which the rails were still present but was inoperable.  He said the rails had been abandoned but the right-of-way was still under the jurisdiction of the creditors of the bankrupt railroad.

Mercy me...I'd hate to be operating illegally.

Thanks, Bill
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Bill
pdlethbridge
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« Reply #1 on: June 02, 2010, 08:09:00 PM »

I believe a railroad will stop using track before they can file for abandonment. For instance, The steep grade at Saluda is no longer used by the railroad but the tracks are still there. and from wikipedia,
Saluda Grade is the steepest standard-gauge mainline railway grade in the United States. Owned by the Norfolk Southern Railway as part of its W Line, the Saluda Grade in Polk County, North Carolina consists of a three-mile section of track that rises over 600 feet (180 m) in elevation with a highest official grade of 4.7% but reaching 5.1% at one point between the towns of Melrose and Saluda.

Captain Charles W. Pearson was assigned in with the task of selecting a route for the Spartanburg and Asheville Railroad to ascend the Blue Ridge front; the area of land where the rolling hills of the piedmont come to an abrupt end at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Despite numerous surveys of the area, no suitable land was available for a railroad to ascend the mountains at a tolerable grade, and the best route found followed the Pacolet River valley and gorge. The line begins its climb at the bottom of Melrose Mountain, where the town of Tryon can be found today at 1,081 feet (329 m), and continues on the southern side of the Pacolet valley. At Melrose, what is known as the Saluda Grade begins and climbs to the town of Saluda, cresting from the steepest ruling grade of 5.1% right in the center of town at an elevation of 2,097 feet (639 m).

Because of numerous accidents involving downgrade runaway trains in the late 1880s, the then Southern Railway (the line's original owner) built special safety spur tracks along the route. These are manned junctions, which, for safety reasons, are always switched to a 60-foot (18 m) pile of solid earth, which is capable of stopping downgrade runaway trains. Only upon hearing a special whistle signal from the downgrade train will the signalman manning the spur junction throw the switch to keep the train safely on the main line. Special elaborate rules were made by Southern, and later Norfolk Southern, in dealing with operations on this route.[1][2]

Norfolk Southern suspended freight traffic between Landrum, South Carolina and Flat Rock, North Carolina in December 2001,[3] thus ceasing operations on the Saluda Grade. The rails remain in place; however, they are cut and out of service. Talks of a passenger train excursion and a Rails-to-trails conversion have not made any headway in recent years.
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RAM

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« Reply #2 on: June 02, 2010, 08:42:04 PM »

A railroad must file to abandonment.  They may or may not have service over the line at the time.  They can take a line out of service. I believe that is what they did at Saluda.  They may even maintain the track in case they need to put it back in service.  Some rail lines have been out of service for a number of years and are then put back in service.  Some lines may be abandoned and the track remains for year such as the EBT.  If a railroad bought the rightaway and they rip up the track.  They still own the rightaway. 
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jward


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« Reply #3 on: June 02, 2010, 08:54:08 PM »

in some states, abandoned lines are railbanked. that is, rather than the tracks being torn up and the right of way sold off, the state buys the line and holds it in trust in case it is ever needed. if there is a future demand, some states will contract out the operation of the line to private companies  for a period of time.
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Jeffery S Ward Sr
Pittsburgh, PA
richg
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« Reply #4 on: June 02, 2010, 09:03:54 PM »

When the Pioneer Valley Railroad abandoned the line through Southampton and Easthampton MA, rails where left in place. I think that was around 1980. Many are still in place next to some old factory buildings and in much of Southampton.
The "mainline" has become a Rail Trail in Easthampton, up to Northampton and into northern Holyoke near a mainline that might be used by Amtrak in the near future.
I drive under an old steel railroad bridge with rails still in place in Southampton quite regularly. A trailer truck would never fit under the bridge.

Rich
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Bill Baker

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« Reply #5 on: June 03, 2010, 10:44:09 AM »

So I assume each state has its own statutes to which they must follow.  This makes sense since the railroads are chartered within the states they operate.
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Bill
ebtnut

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« Reply #6 on: June 03, 2010, 01:11:12 PM »

Things get tied up in legalities real quick with rail abandonments.  In general, actual abandonments must be approved by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), successor to the ICC.  I believe the FRA also has to approve termination of service on a rail line as well.  There may also be quirks in the various state charters about what constitutes "service" and what might happen if it ends.  It also may depend on what the ownership status of the roadbed is.  If it was acquired outright (in fee simple), then even if the rails are gone, some entity still owns that strip of land.  In many cases, though, the rights-of-way were acquired through some form of easement or lease (commonly, 99 years), in which case if the service ends and/or the rails are lifited, the land reverts back to the owners/heirs from which the right-of-way agreements were obtained.  There have been a number of court cases thorughout the country where a local jurisdiction wanted to turn an abandoned rail line into a hiker/biker trail, but some of those landowners objected.  Decisions have gone both ways in different states. 

Here's an example - The East Broad Top RR, which opens to celebrate 50 years as a tourist operation this weekend, acquired most all of its main line in fee simple.  When the line shut down as a commercial operation in 1956, a petition to abandon was filed with the ICC.  However, with the reopening of the line for tourists in 1960, the railroad requested that the ICC stay the abandonment request.  Even given that, the ownership  has had to keep tabs on the right-of-way to prevent adjoining landowners from making permanent encroachments, such as buildings, onto the right-of-way, which if not addressed could become the basis for an adverse possession claim, and more courtroom drama.
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Joe323

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« Reply #7 on: June 03, 2010, 01:21:28 PM »

Case in Point There is much debate here in Staten Island NY about reopening the North Shore railway along the route it ran much of which is still open with tracks there.  I have a feeling I'll be long gone if this ever happens but it shows that you never know.
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richg
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« Reply #8 on: June 03, 2010, 03:54:39 PM »

Below photos I just took. About one mile from my house. Eleven feet clearance. Plenty of streets nearby and this spot has a couple tight curves so no trucks.
Many bridges were removed many years ago so wooden bridges are being built on the old abutments for foot and bicycle traffic.







About eight miles from me is a steel bridge above the Connecticut river that now has a walkway with extra guard rails. It is part of a rail trail. There are many rail trails in New England.

Rich
« Last Edit: June 03, 2010, 04:00:15 PM by richg » Logged
pcctrolleyII

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« Reply #9 on: June 06, 2010, 04:33:33 PM »

Reminds me of a Old Reading compeny spur thats been cut off from every thing but. the catenery and tracks and signals are still there. Though the most of the signals have been taken or wrecked. the spur is on 9th and spring gaurden in Philadelphia Pa.
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PCC trolleys for life.
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