• Rail Trails: Blessing or a Curse?

  • General discussion related to Rail Trails nationwide, including proposed rail trail routes. The official site of the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy can be found here: www.railstotrails.org.
General discussion related to Rail Trails nationwide, including proposed rail trail routes. The official site of the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy can be found here: www.railstotrails.org.

Moderator: railtrailbiker

  by RussNelson
You guys who say that rail-trail users are a barrier to restoration of rail service are looking at it the wrong way. Which is going to be easier to build? A railroad on a former rail-trail (owned by one or two parties), or a railroad on a former railroad (dispersed among hundreds of owners, some of whom have built houses smack-dab in the middle of the right-of-way, and/or are using it as their driveway, or who completely bulldozed the railbed away and built a subdivision on it)? Or even worse: a railroad going through miles of subdivisions. Nobody is going to tolerate a modern-day Robert Moses, wielding eminent domain like a sword.

The choice is not between a rail-trail and a railroad. The choice is between a rail-trail and abandonment.
  by MEC407
Moderator Note:

Topic moved to the Rail Trails forum.
  by FLRailFan1
To me rail trails are a curse. I use a rail trail here in Tampa, yet I think if the rail trails advocates were honest they would let rails come back. I think the rail trail from Willimantic to Manchester would be a good rail WITH trail. Of course, NIMBYs don't want trains (and some don't want hikers/bikers on it).
  by lexon
Some cannot handle changing times. The world is evolving if you take time to look around. Stop living in the past.
There are more efficient ways of transportation today in many areas of the country. Cost is a big consideration.
I ride the local trails a lot. Some right next to an active railroad main. Have to carry my bike over two sets of tracks to access another rail trail.

  by MinutemanMaroon
Its not so much that we can't handle changing times. Its obvious that there are more 'efficient' ways of travel, at least when it comes to time of travel. If there weren't, railroads would still be king. Its more that we, who are so enamored with trains, hate to see what we love disappearing. Sure, a trail preserves a right of way and sometimes highlights its history. But you must acknowledge that never again will we be able to see what we love operate on these lines, to see these lines used as they were intended. And in a way, we see our passion shrinking due to this. Inversely, trail enthusiasts see their passion increasing, and so there is an opposite reaction to trail building. Its hard to find a railfan who is excited to see the end of service and hard to find a trailfan who is sad to see the trains go. Not impossible, as many of you are both, but hard.
  by bumthum
It can easily go both ways in my mind. When I return home to New Hampshire for my annual vacation I run on the Northern Rail Trail pretty much every day. I really enjoy the opportunity it provides as a running path and an opportunity to retrace the B&M Northern line I spent much of my early life around but only briefly saw operating as a child (my dad has memories of bumming rides from train crews from Lebanon to Canaan or White River and back).

On the other hand, the people who work hard to maintain that very same rail trail want to pull up more and more existing rail towards West Lebanon and are rapidly encroaching on the state owned rail operated by the Claremont and Concord. I guess the state owns all of the rail and the right of way but they are trying to balance the need for the income brought in by the rail trail system with the current limited utility of what remains of the Northern... The rail trail people recently expanded the trail north towards West Lebanon, after walking it (it's still just ballast with the rail piled up off to the side) I can't help but think that it would have made a really live tourist rail operation rather than simply a convenient running path. In the long run, there isn't any industry aside from car storage to support the rail that is still in place beyond the track currently used by the Claremont and Concord, but making it into a trail ensures that the right of way will probably never be used for rail again... which is a sad thought. I consider it a great deal easier to put the trails to the side of the track, within the right of way, than to pull up the rail for scrap and the ties to rot. The desires of runners, bikers, and snow mobile riders could be satisfied while still leaving the rail in place for future potential operations. That's my two cents.
  by electricron
Both rails and trails can co-exist within the same corridor. Check out DCTA's A-Train and trail north of Lake Lewisville all the way to downtown Denton. A trail will soon be added south of the lake as well through Lewisville.
SMART in northern California is allowing trails adjacent to much of its rail corridor too. The ability to compromise allows everyone to share a corridor.
  by SemperFidelis
I'll say that in an area like my adopted hometown, Scranton, PA, and the surrounding cities of the Lackawanna and Wyoming Vallies, that, with some serious shifts in attitudes towards walking and biking as recreation, rail trails would make perfect sense. Even during the height of anthracite mining and heavy manufacturing in the region, there were significant redundancies in area trackage with multiple railroads building parallel lines to serve the various breakers of the region.

Now, with anthracite all but forgotten and with only the ghosts of heavy manufacturing inhabiting the hundreds of abandoned and underutilized factories, short of a massive economic upheavel of the sort that would revive those industrial dinosaurs (one I would welcome, by the by), the area is rife with abandoned rail corridors that would make an ideal network of interconnecting trails that could significantly impact shorter distance travel.

I say could, not would, because anyone who knows the area, it's aging demographics, it's culture, and it's obvious heroic levels of contribution to this nation's obesity epidemic (not being mean, it's just a sad truth) would be as skeptical as I that an excellent network of trails would be any better utilized than the excellent sections of O&W and CNJ that have been opened as trails. Some beautiful days I've been there and seen maybe a dozen or so other people, and very few people walking with children (actually causing them to exersize). On bad weather days, I see about the same number of people, leading me to believe it's a small core of people who use it regularly.

So yeah, in areas that have dozens of parallel, abandoned routes between established population centers, I support rail trails...I just don't think many are worth the money.
  by B&Mguy
As someone who loves exploring abandoned (and active) railroads as well as being active outdoors. I do find that rail trails are often the best of both worlds. While I agree that some rail trails do not give the history of the former rail line as much focus as they probably should, it does make it more fun for me, the trail user, to search for lost artifacts along the right of way.

The fact of the matter is that there are so many abandoned rail lines that probably have almost no chance whatsoever of being resurrected for rail use. Given the options of the right of way either being sold off to private parties and developers or converted to a rail trail, I would always take the rail trail hands down. Rail trails give the user the opportunity not only to get outdoors, exercise and stay in shape, but also allows them to see a piece of history that normally they may have had no idea even existed in their backyard.

A great example was recently in Bedford, MA at the end of the Minute Man Bikeway, I was pausing for a breather halfway through my ride, two women in their twenties were stretching nearby before going for a run. One said to the other that she thought it was really cool that they were about to exercise on the trail and also seemed interested in the restored Budd car and freight house. They definitely didn't fit the typical railfan profile, but at the same time, having access to the trail and history made them both more interested by default.

While it would be nice to think that someday there will be in the increased need for rail service in many areas, the fact of the matter is that there are some lines that are just simply never coming back. As someone who loves going out an exploring the remains of these rail lines, it becomes much more difficult when access has been restricted by private landowners. Look at the former Eastern route in Seabrook, NH. That power plant is now a huge obstacle to either commuter rail to Portsmouth or a trail, and as a result, the right of way is just sitting there with no one able to use it. At the very least a rail trail would let us railfans be able to explore the old right of way, and imagine what it would have been like to ride through on the train.

Another great example that could have great potential in the future is up in central NH. I recently read a report that there's talk about wanting to build a rail trail from Bristol to Hill on the remains of the Franklin and Bristol RR, abandoned in the late 1930's. There is absolutely no chance that this right of way would ever be reused for either passenger or freight service, and I had assumed there was nothing left of it in the woods. The report however, showed pictures of the former turntable site, a milepost as well as some interesting rock retaining formations. Access to the area is very challenging since there is no real road access or public ways to the old roadbed. A rail trail will open up this piece of history that has been hidden in the woods for almost 75 years.

My point is, I understand that rail trails can be much disliked n the rail fan community, but I think at the same time the provide a lot of benefits to everyone, including railfans that shouldn't be overlooked.
  by Literalman
I've helped build a rail trail, on the Virginia Central right-of-way in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Except for a mile or so on the east end of the line (abandoned in 1984), the railroad was abandoned in the 1930s. Enough of the right-of-way remains that a 40-mile trail from Fredericksburg to Orange is a possiblity.

I also have walked a lot of the Washington & Old Dominion trail in Virginia. That railroad was abandoned in the 1960s. I also walked all of the Capital Crescent trail, a former B&O branch, and this fall I walked over the Hudson at Poughkeepsie.

I'm a rail advocate, but if a line has been dead for decades and has no potential for resurrection as a rail line, I favor rail trails. Lumping all rail trail advocates together as being against rail service is about as fair as calling all railfans "foamers."

If there's the slightest chance of resumed or new rail service, I'd favor keeping the rail option open. A trail next to the tracks can work. The Metropolitan Branch trail is alongside the active Metro, Marc, CSX, and Amtrak rails in Maryland and Washington, DC, and Maryland's purple light rail line, if it gets built, will be next to the Capital Crescent trail.

Blessings upon you all: rail service and, where appropriate, trails.