- August 27, 1990
- All Oregon and Washington Offices
- Railroad Rights of Way
The United States Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the 1983 Amendments to the National Trails Act, the "rails-to-trails" statute. Preseault v. I.C.C., 110 S.Ct. 914 (1990).
The 1983 amendments provide that a railroad wishing to cease operations along a particular route may negotiate with a State, municipality, or private group prepared to assume financial and managerial responsibility for the right-of-way. If the parties reach agreement, the land may, subject to ICC-imposed terms and conditions, be transferred to the trail operator for interim trail use notwithstanding whatever reversionary interests may exist in the property under state law.
This statute was challenged by persons owning reversionary interests who claimed that it was a thinly disguised effort to take their rights away without compensation. The Supreme Court disagreed and upheld the statute.
In Oregon and Washington railroads usually do not have fee simple title to their rights of way. They have an easement or a limited fee.
This case means that it is possible for railroads to transfer their easement or limited fee interests to others for recreational trail uses. Such a transfer must be approved by the Interstate Commerce Commission.
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