FEDERAL POLICIES

SURFACE TRANSPORTATION BOARD

The Surface Transportation Board is the agency, within the US Department of Transportation, which regulates railroad corridors and rights of ways and rail operations and related functions, such as which corridors have federal controls, have tracks, have train operations – and related to this which corridors have Railbanking/Interim Trail Use.

RAILBANKING / INTERIM TRAIL USE

WHY WAS RAIL BANKING / INTERIM TRAIL USE CREATED?

Prior to 1976, railroads found themselves strangled with regulations, such that some railroads filed bankruptcy (Penn Central, Erie Lackawanna, and other east coast railroads, etc.).​​

  1. In 1976, Congress passed the 4-R Act (Rail Road Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act) to allow railroads to abandon rail right of ways more freely than in past.  Some thought too many unique corridors as assets were being lost.

  2. As a result, in 1983 Congress moved to slow abandonment and save some railroad right of ways by creating Interim Trail Use / Rail banking, which reduce the loss of rail right of ways.​

HOW TO APPLY FOR RAILBANKING

  1. Railroad files with Surface Transportation Board to abandon a line​​.

  2. Trail group has 30 days to file for interim trail use / rail bank.  Rail banking includes two parts:

    1. Public Use Condition - which generally preserves and continue the railroad right of way to be held by the public for transportation use.​

    2. Trail use request - which more specifically allows the transportation to continue as a trail for walking and bicycling.

  3. Trail group asks railroad to agree to rail bank.

  4. Railroad agrees to rail bank.

  5. Surface Transportation Board issues a statement to rail bank.

  6. Railroad or trail group issues letter of consummation.

  7. Trail can be built after letter of consummation.

  8. With letter, railroad has right to rebuild the track within the right of way.

SURFACE TRANSPORTATION BOARD PRIORITIES REGARDING RAILBANKING

  • Connect to the national transportation system

  • Keep bridges intact

  • Keep land alignment and the right of way dimensions intact:

    • height​

    • width

    • length

    • same curves, straights

    • elevation

    • other

  • Keep for freight service

  • Pay taxes, support

NATIONAL SCENIC TRAILS ACT OF 1968

The story of the creation of a national strategy to create and manage trails in modern America begins with President Lyndon Johnson’s speech on the “Conservation and Preservation of Natural Beauty” in February, 1965. In his address to Congress, the President focused attention on many areas affecting the conservation and restoration of natural beauty in America, such as clean water, parks in urban areas, some national seashores, and national recreation areas – and of particular note – trails.

  • Historic Trails – designated by Congress. Honors trails of pioneers, noteworthy events, and such.

  • Scenic Trails – designated by Congress. Highlights trails thru scenic areas.

  • Recreation Trails – designated by Executive Branch. Promotes people getting outdoors.

  • Connecting Trails / Rail Trails - determined by local people. This is where the role of transportation merges into the label of recreation, as in scenic trails.   

OTHER ACTS OF CONGRESS

  • In 1991 Congress passed Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act which added bike/pedestrian dimensions to national transportation planning.  One new dimension created a series of bike/pedestrian coordinators in various levels of governments.

  • In 2019 Trump signed Natural Resource Management Act in part which mandated American Discovery Trail signs on federal lands.    

  • National Discovery Trail Act – needs sponsors in Congress. This bill would create a fifth category of trails in the National Scenic Trails Act: Discovery Trail.  As a result of this legislation, the American Discovery Trail would become a part of the national scenic trails network thus becoming a federally supported trail via policies but not necessarily via federal funding.

FEDERAL RAILROAD ADMINISTRATION

Has the responsibility to check and regulate safety and mechanical aspects of trains and equip., such as wear of brakes, tracks, couplers, et cetera.

INDIANA STATE POLICIES

TRANSPORTATION CORRIDOR PLANNING (IC 8-4.5)

Established in 1987 Indiana Gen Assembly passed 8-4.5 to stifle rail-trail development. During bill discussions, Richard Vonnegut, trail user, entered some good ideas into this otherwise bad bill, creating a mixed public policy.

  • Of some bad ideas is 8-4.5-6-6, which calls for fencing, not because fencing is always needed, but so as to make a trail expensive.

  • Of some good ideas, 8-4.5-6-5 is the Recreational User Law, which allows those who own land and let people cross the land, to have immunity for injuries of users.    

Most ideas in this Law are designed either to make trails expensive or to make the process so burdensome, as to kill a trail.

NEXT LEVEL GRANTS

Next Level was created by Governor Holcomb in 2018 for $1B for infrastructure. $910Million for roads and airports. $90M for trails for economic stimuli to local economies.

STATE BIKE / PEDESTRIAN COORDINATOR

The offices of Bike/Pedestrian Coordinators at state and local levels were created in the 1991 transportation bill called “Ice Tea” from the name “Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act.” The Indiana Department of Transportation (“INDOT”) houses the State Bike/Pedestrian Coordinator.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT

LOCAL GOVERNMENTS AND METROPOLITAN PLANNING ORGANIZATIONS

Metropolitan Planning Organizations “MPOs” have Bike/Pedestrian Coordinators. MPOs are set up in cities with populations greater than fifty thousand people. Generally MPOs plan transportation plans for 5 to 30 years hence. MPOs are functions of the state via Indiana Department of Transportation.

CITIES, TOWNS, AND VILLIAGES

Many local governments have their own varieties of ordinances which promote or detract about hiking and cycling. Such varieties are difficult to generalize, but many communities, both large and small, have plans for bike and pedestrian routes across town, such as linking residential areas to schools, to businesses, to parks, etc. Almost all county seats have such cross-town or cross-city trails (off-road) and routes (on-roads).

NOTEWORTHY ACHIEVEMENTS

Some communities have noteworthy achievements.

  • Fort Wayne (a city) has 100 Miles of trails.

  • Indianapolis (a city) has many miles of many trails.

  • Brownsburg (a town) bought part of the B&O trail.

And some small towns contribute to trails in other ways, such as:

  • Bunker Hill (a village) let the Nickel Plate Trail group have a meeting location.

©2019 by Hoosier Rails to Trails Council. 

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