Iowa has historically been a pioneer in utilizing abandoned
railroad corridors for trail projects. These corridors are ideal for trail
users, especially people with mobility impairments and older adults because
they offer continuous, nearly flat routes. However, because the trails are
often located on elevated rail beds, care must be taken to develop accessible
pathways to all trailheads and access points.
Railroad corridors also offer the advantage of a continuous
right of way under single ownership. Trails can replace or join railroads
without taking any new land out of production. To assemble this type of corridor
piecemeal would be nearly impossible, and prohibitively expensive. Conversion
of abandoned railroad corridors to trails has caused some controversy, however,
primarily from adjacent landowners. When a trail is implemented on an abandoned
railroad corridor, the trail owner must assume the responsibility and liability
of the railroad, as provided by the Iowa Code, and should establish a working
relationship with landowners along the corridor. The following guidelines
apply to trail projects located on abandoned railroad corridors.
- Work with adjacent landowners from the beginning of the trail planning
- The trail owner should keep the corridor free of weeds, especially invasive
species that could impact adjacent crops.
- The trail owner should assume responsibility for drainage of the trail,
ensuring that water does not divert onto adjacent property. Because a railroad
corridor's surface is mostly permeable, paving the surface will cause an
increase in runoff. Adequate drainage of the trail is necessary.
- The trail owner should provide appropriate support services along the
trail (see "Support Services" ).
- Where necessary, provide agricultural access across the trail for adjacent
landowners (see "At-Grade
- Where necessary, install a vegetative buffer or fence between the trail
and adjacent property.
- Liability issues should be clearly articulated prior to trail implementation.
In limited cases, trails may be implemented in railroad
corridors that are still active. This may occur where the right-of-way is
wide or where train traffic is infrequent or travels at low speeds. This
"rail-with-trail" method can be employed when a two- or three-track
mainline eliminates one track but maintains its full right-of-way width.
This type of trail facility requires extensive cooperation with the railroad.
The following guidelines apply to trails implemented within active rail corridors.
- The edge of the trail should be at least 25 feet from the centerline
of the active tracks (see Figure 4-4).
- If a trail passes closer to the active track than 25 feet, fencing should
be installed at the edge of the trail (see Figure 4-4).
FIGURE 4-4: RAILROAD BUFFERS
Planning and Designing Rail-Trails on Abandoned Rail
Road Management and Engineering Journal
"Rails With Trails," Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.