Trails in Indiana

RAILBANKING

Several Federal laws have either brought about trails or bolstered their existence. One of the primary laws was created in 1982, called “Interim Trail Use,” and is nicknamed “railbanking,” this law expanded the ways and steps by which a railroad right-of-way may be handled. Specifically it separated the concept of abandonment into two parts. One part is that a railroad company can remove its hardware (rails, ties, etc.) and leave all its responsibility to the corridor. The other part is that the interstate commerce and regulation can remain by transferring this to another party, such as a trail group.

For over a hundred years most non-railroad people considered abandonment to mean that when a railroad company removed rail from a line, the rail “ability” of the line was gone. This perception did not recognize that prior to removing rail, a railroad company had to have the federal government extinguish whatever easement of interstate commerce and regulation may have existed over the corridor in question. When a railroad decides it does not want a line anymore, it can apply to the Surface Transportation Board (that part of the federal government which regulates interstate commerce over rail lines) to remove all federal regulation, which is to apply for abandonment. A (trail) group can then apply to railbank the line in question. If the railroad and group and the Surface Transportation Board (STB) agree upon certain terms, the STB may approve of transferring the holding of responsibility of management of the corridor from the railroad company to the group. This transfer with other terms, makes for railbanking, and preserving the corridor for trail transportation in some undefined short term, and holding of the corridor for some rail transportation in the future. Thus whatever easement might have been extinguished by abandonment, is not extinguished but lives on as a public trail.

This process can be more easily explained in the following chart, as copyrighted by the Hoosier Rails to Trails Council in 2009.
Permission is given to those who wish to use, cite, or copy this chart, to do so, provided they reference it to the Hoosier Rails to Trails Council.

Description of Corridor Use Federal Authority Track In Place Trains Operating

1) Active Line Segment has has has
2) Inactive Line Segment has has none
3) Railbanked Line Segment has none none
4) Abandoned Line Segment none none none

The law which created Interim Trail Use/Railbanking is the National Trails Act of 1982. Sited in US Code 16-27-1247d. The Indiana Trails Fund initiated railbanking and therefore continues federal transportation authority over several corridors, even with rails being removed.

Traditionally steps 1,2, and 4 would mean that federal transportation authority would be removed, and then rails would be taken away. With both of these accomplished , the corridor becomes abandoned (and the underlying fee comes into play). With the creation of step 3, the intactness of the corridor is preserved, and a continuous and contiguous trail over many miles becomes possible. By the railbanking status continuing federal authority over the corridor, the dominant corridor use is transportation, and therefore the underlying fee is not as important or relevant as the federal authority.