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HomeRails to Trails - Current Culture

Rails to Trails - Current Culture in Oklahoma

a History

Jerel Cowan wrote his PhD Thesis on the history of the Rails to Trails issues. 
In his report, Dr. Cowen found that in 1916 there were 254,037 miles of rails in the U.S.
That number dropped to 209,000 miles by 1968, and 141,000 by 1990.

In Oklahoma, there were 6,678 miles of track in 1930, dropping to 5,447 miles in the mid-70's

Currently in the U.S. there are approximately 1,534 rail-trails.
In Missouri, there are 441 miles of trails converted from abandoned rail lines.
In Oklahoma, there are 52 miles of Rail-Trail.

In his report is a case study of the abandoned rail lines from Henrietta to Durant line, and the experience of attempting to hold those lines for future rails to trails opportunity.   Dr. Cowen summarizes:

"Future development of rails-to- trails within the state will greatly benefit from a strategic and concerted approach to such efforts. For instance, ensuring that the managing agency of long distance trails is a state agency helps to maintain consistency throughout the trail (both in development and maintenance) while allowing funding to be used in a beneficial manner. As a matter of development and maintenance, state guidelines provide uniformity in procedures related to repairs and upkeep. State managed trails also promote the use of state law enforcement and monitoring capabilities. "

You can find Dr. Cowen's report here: Rails to Trails Cowen Disertation 


Legislative Resolution 1080 - No Trail for You


In 1990, the Oklahoma Legislature introduced a resolution to prevent converting abandoned rail lines into recreation trails.
HCR1080 is NOT law, merely an indication of the will of the legislature in 1990.
It is very limited in scope but has gained mythic power and become the barrier to overcome.

To see the resolution  - click: HCR1080
Court Opinion: Purchase of Abandoned Real Property or Real Property of Bankrupt Railroad

Governor Walters was against Rail Trails

Having grown up on a farm, Gov. Walters had seen a disruption of farming effectiveness when a rail road bisected a farm.

Take a look at his letter explaining his position:  walters letter 1991 R2T 

The Railroad Lobby

Ordinary citizens are at a disadvantage because of the tremendous spending power of the Railroad lobbyists.  
In 2017, Railroad lobbyists spent over $1,163 on our elected officials.

Information about the Railroad lobby can be found:
 Spending by the Railroad lobby on Oklahoma legislators

 Ok. Railroad Assc Tax form 2014
 Ok. Railroad Assc Tax form 2016
 Directory for the Railroad Lobby
 Photos of Lobbyists    
 Lobbyists at ODOT Transportation Committee meetings: 2017  2018  

But Wait - The Secretary of the Interior encourages Rail Trails

The Secretary of the Interior, in administering the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976 [45 U.S.C. 801 et seq.], shall encourage State and local agencies and private interests to establish appropriate trails using the provisions of such programs.

See the full text of this act: HERE or HERE orHERE  

Rail Banking - How to keep from losing abandoned rails lines 

Railbanking, established in 1983 as an amendment to Section 8(d) of the National Trails System Act, is a voluntary agreement between a railroad company and a trail agency to use an out-of-service rail corridor as a trail until a railroad might need the corridor again for rail service. This interim trail use of railbanked corridors has preserved thousands of miles of rail corridors that would otherwise have been abandoned.

For more info: 
    Rail Banking Details
   Code of Federal Regulations 

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has documented their position on Rail banking in their 2018 Rail Plan: Rail Banked Lines and Interim Trail Use Recognizing that abandoned rail lines are typically lost for future transportation uses, rail right‐of‐way has been proactively rail banked in Oklahoma. Some of these segments may potentially hold strategic value as future transportation corridors in the state. Oklahoma DOT reviews all potential rail abandonments in the state for suitability as recreational corridors under the Federal Rails‐to‐Trails legislation. Over 22,000 miles of open rails‐to‐trails corridors exist nationwide, with approximately 52 miles over 8 total trails in Oklahoma. 
Some principal rail trails in Oklahoma include the following facilities:
- Osage Prairie Trail: Approximately 14 miles of the former Midland Valley Railroad between Tulsa and Skiatook, Oklahoma.  
- Katy Trail: Approximately 8 miles of the former Missouri‐Kansas‐Texas Railroad in Tulsa, Oklahoma. 
For the full text - click HERE



And yet.. who owns the land when it is abandoned 

Adjacent landowners will sometimes claim that the easement they sold to the railroad company should revert to them when it is no longer used for rail traffic.

Here are some details: 

But in 1986 the Supreme Court sided on the recreational use proponents. See the opinions here: 
Preseault v ICC
  Case Law Example from Michigan   

A Question of Liability

If a Rail Trail bisects your land, and if a trail user has an accident and gets hurt, is the adjacent landowner liable?

"The primary focuses of rail-trail managers should be the safety of trail users and the minimization of risk and liability exposure. ... Under these statutes, no landowner is liable for recreational injuries resulting from trail user carelessness if they have provided public access to their land for recreational purposes." 

Details on this issue: Liability and Risk Article 
Case Example: 
Maine trail liability   Maine title14sec159-A
In Oklahoma: Limitation on Liability of Persons Making Land Available to Public for Recreatio
In Missouri: immunity from civil liability for adjoining landowners

Recent Rails to Trails Legislation

In 2017, Rep. Lewis Moore introduced legislation to promote Rails to Trails.

HB1725 permits railroads to cease operations on a line without abandonment, and allows temporary recreational trail use of the rights-of-way. The bill specifies how the trails will be established and maintained, permitted and prohibited uses, and liability protections for railroads, trail managers, adjacent landowners. A feature of the bill will permit “rails with trails” use if a railroad wishes to allow it.
To see the proposed legislation, click : 
OK Rights-Of-Way Preservation Act

The bill was introduced to the legislature and began its typical convoluted trip to being approved or denied by the house and senate. During that trip the legislators may tweak the wording to improve its appeal and effectiveness.

However, along the way, that tweaking action resulted in the entire text of the bill to be replaced with an entirely different bill, one that moves the financial responsibility of a train crossing at an intersection from the railroad company to the county or city. So, we have a bill that went from helping cyclists get more bike trails, to a bill that self serves the railroad company at the expense of the citizens of the state.

The bill was co-opted by a legislator prompted by the railroad lobby. For details, click HERE 
or read the Journal Record article HERE

If you are not yet mad about this travesty of justice, take a look at the article from the Journal Record with the railroad lobby. Here is an excerpt:
Tyler White, senior general attorney for BNSF Railway. “We can’t be restricted by state law. You can do more with less, as far as I’m concerned.” Moore’s bill outlined instructions for how railroad companies would handle
rail lines, but White said that language isn’t necessary. He said if Moore was interested in developing railroad lines into trails, the bill’s language should 
give more protection for trail groups."
For the entire article - look at Bill derailed - 03292017 - Journal Record


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