- January 28, 1991
- All Washington Agents
- Railroad Rights of Way
We have yet another railroad right-of-way case. King County v. Squire Investment Co., 801 P.2d 1022 (Wash. App.) (1990) In this case the court of appeals ruled that:
the railroad had only an easement to the right-of-way;
the easement could not be transferred to the county for trail purposes; and
fee title was vested in the heirs of the 1887 deed to the railroad.
The 1887 deed conveyed a "right-of-way fifty (50) feet in width" to the Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Railway Company. In July of 1985 the Interstate Commerce Commission issued a Certificate of Abandonment which permitted Seattle Lake Shore's successor, Burlington Northern, to abandon railroad service. Six months later Burlington Northern quit claimed the right-of way to King County.
The reference to a "right-of-way" in the 1887 deed convinced the court that only an easement was conveyed to the railroad. This easement was for railroad purposes only and was abandoned in 1985. It was not transferable to the county for related transportation/recreation trail uses.
The abutting property owner's chain of title used the railroad right-of-way as a border to his property. The court construed his legal description literally and held that he had no interest in the adjoining right-of-way.
Once again railroad rights-of-way are very hazardous and should not be insured. It is usually not possible for us to vest title without a quiet title decree.
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