• Abandoned Lines to State ownership

  • Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in New York State.
Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in New York State.

Moderator: Otto Vondrak

  by t-croz
Can someone explain the reasons why when a RR requests from the ICC that a line be abandoned, that the state in which it resides could not "take over" the line? This could prevent it from being torn up and sold and kept for potential future use for light rail.
I may be oversimplifying but it seems that most lines are abandoned because the revenue is not in excess of service costs and taxes. I also assume that at the time of ICC request, there wasn't a short line asking the class 1 to handle the traffic for them either.
But, after abandonment, it seems that the rails get taken up and then the good folks along the line get used to the peaceful tranquility of their backyard and if the City with traffic problems wants to add or expand the light rail system, the NIMBY's bring out the lawyers.
If the state owned the lines after abandonment, they would be no worse off as far as taxes, they could negotiate with a short line at some future date to expand service on the line and perhaps even offer "subsidies"(horrors!) to get some trucks off the roads. How long before the solution to traffic congestion problems is NOT widen the roads, make more lanes, add more outer loops, keep more construction firms repaving.
How long before Walmart decides that since all it's merchandise(except food) comes off the boat from China at Longbeach and onto rails and could be delivered in those big containers to its backdoor if they put the new Mega Walmart near a rail line?
Thanks for your insights...

  by WNYRailfan
Well I understand the question, but I do not have the answer. I also wondered why the county couldn't retain ownership of the abandoned rail line. In Monroe County (NY) the county owns the former Lehigh Valley ROW in the county and it is called the Lehigh Valley Linear Trail Park.

http://www.monroecounty.gov/orgMain.asp ... =&storyID=

Furthermore, why do businesses not realize that since gasoline prices are increasing, maybe getting rail service that is harbor to door is cheaper or at least more efficient.

Just a few thoughts!!

  by Railroaded
Erie County owns the old Erie main into Buffalo and leases it to the Buffalo Southern Railroad. Their plans for the North end of the old BR&P line from the City of Buffalo to Rich Stadium in Orchard Park were part of the reason the ICC did not grant the B&P abandonment. They want to run passenger extras to the Bill's games to open the markets to out of towners. The Niagara Frontier Transportation Auth. owns several Right of Ways out of Buffalo including the old DL&W line heading South East and the Erie heading North for possible future expansion of the MetroRail. Not sure if they own the old West Shore out past the Mall to the Airport or not.........

-Brian in Bflo.
New York State HAS acquired abandoned railroad lines. The Remsen-Lake Placid (ex-NYC line) and the Catskill Mountain Branch (also ex-NYC) are two examples. In both cases, the state ended up leasing portions of the trackage to tourist railroads. Municipal entities like Industrial Development Agencies have also saved lines that would have otherwise been torn up. The Steuben County IDA's ownership of the Bath-Wayland segment (leased to B&H Rail Corp.) is an example as is the Erie County IDA's acquisition of the ex-EL line to Gowanda (BSOR). Ontario County's ownership of the Manchester-Victor LV trackage (ONCT) is another case in point.

By the way, the Interstate Commerce Commission no longer exists. Approval of railroad abandonments is now the province of the Surface Transportation Board. The STB normally mandates that lines on which service is to be discontinued must be offered at net liquidation value to any bona fide purchaser. The problem is that this requires money. With state and local governments facing budget crunches, some rail corridors have been lost.


  by Otto Vondrak
Good to have you aboard, EHB.

...If you look at neighbor Connecticut, they "railbanked" the ex-NH Housatonic Line when the Penn Central stopped running regular service between Pittsfield, MA and New Milford, CT sometime around 1972. The rails were left in place, and eventually several small operators re-opened parts of the line. Today, the Housatonic Railroad has reactivated the entire line as a frieght route. Although nice to hear about, these resurrection stories are not always practical or financially feasible. In New York State, no such "railbanking" provision exists. With the current tax situation in New York being what it is, railroads look to remove rails as soon as possible in order to relieve the tax burden. A strip of land with rails on it is taxed as a "Transportation Corridor." Remove those rails, and now it's just a 50-foot wide strip of land, taxed at probably 1/4 (my guess) the amount paid before.

Last edited by Otto Vondrak on Sun Apr 04, 2004 11:40 am, edited 1 time in total.

Yes, the revival of the Housatonic is a real success story. But if you're looking at new England, Vermont is the pioneer in state-sponsored preservation of abandoned lines. The Green Mountain State acquired the lines of the abandoned Rutland Railroad way back in 1961. The track was leased to the Vermont Railway and to the Green Mountain RR Corp. respectively. New Hampshire was also active in acquiring lines.

  by nessman
Here's what CSX is paying for 75.3 acres of abandoned ROW in the town of Ogden (former Conrail Falls Road Secondary): $1,004 / yr in property taxes. It's listed as "old rr track - non-transport property" on their tax rolls. Pretty good deal.

I couldn't tell you what Conrail paid back in the day. But a 9 acre shopping plaza in the same town pays about $36,000 / yr in taxes.

  by DutchRailnut
Most of time a Railroad company just strips any usable parts like crossing material rail and ties and lets property revert back to towns and states by simply not pay the tax. this way it gives them a couple of years to see if someone comes up with a better offer.
todays Rails for Trails program keeps thge right of way intact without little pieces going to private owners etc.

  by nessman
I think you're making an assumption.

The Falls Road Secondary has been abandoned since 1994, and CSX still does inspection/repairs on the bridges as needed along the ROW.

  by DutchRailnut
when STB papers are filed you have to read fine print.
there are Service abandonments
there are Railroad abondonments.
  by eddiebear
I was custodian of the Boston & Maine's property records from 1973 to 1985 and love record keeping.

This specific example is for Massachusetts and probably works similarly in many of the other Northeastern states.

Every conventional steam railroad in Massachusetts was authorized by a Special Act of the Legislature. The terms were usually either very general or very specific. The terms usually stated beginning and end, towns to touch and so on. The railroad was then pretty much free to pick the route to follow as long as terms of the Special Act were followed. And if for some reason the Special Act seemed too narrow, it could be re-opened at a later date and- be modified. Specific Special Acts might instruct two or more railroads to construct a Union Station. Capitalization was also specified.

Most Massachusetts Special Acts conferred upon the beneficiary of the Act eminent domain powers. Railroads do not enjoy eminent domain powers in Massachusetts anyway except as authorized under each Special Act. Eminent domain was to be used only if the railroad company and a property owner could not agree on terms and conditions of acquiring real estate for right-of-way, etc. The usual method of acquiring land would be like any transactions between two or more persons....negotiation...settle on a price...and pay.

If a railroad had to exercise eminent domain and the the person who had to surrender the land did not like the price, the next stop was Land Court. Hearing arguments the magistrate at the Land Court would fix the price and the railroad company would pay. This could be appealed to a higher court, but the longer it goes on, the more costly it gets.

In a few instances, the persons who negotiated deals with fledgling railroad companies asked that the land revert to them or their heirs, etc should the railroad company go out of business. The only place I've seen that in any quantity is New Hampshire.

The Special Acts almost never address what should happen if a railroad company went out of business. In these instances, which is most of them, abandoned right-of-way, paid for by the railroad company, remains with the railroad company until it forfeits it through unpaid tax bills - assuming it is even taxed (railroads get a break in Maine and Massachusetts - five rods wide - 82.5 feet = no property taxes) the total demise of the company with no successor, etc. So if a state wants to buy a right-of-way for future use, they'd probably have to come up with the $.

The Boston and Maine had about 25,000 parcels of land at the time I quit in 1986. In areas that were rural in the 1840s and 1850s, some might be a stretch of right-of-way up to 4 or 5 miles long. Others were specks on a map of 1" = 50'.

The fascinating world of setting up some of the pioneer railroads in this area was written up in a number of soft cover booklets written in early 1950s by Professor Charles Kennedy of University of Nebraska Business School.