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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2007. Preserving Freight and Passenger Rail Corridors and Service. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/14115.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2007. Preserving Freight and Passenger Rail Corridors and Service. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/14115.
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Efforts to preserve rail corridors or restore rail service to dormant rail alignments across the United States are very uneven. A handful of states have aggressive, well-funded programs to support the preservation or reuse of rail alignments; more states have modest programs to sup- port short line operations on a case-by-case basis, but attach no value to corridor retention per se. In 2005, California completed what is perhaps the nation’s most comprehensive physical plant inventory of active and abandoned rail corridors; a review driven by interest in passen- ger rail and nonmotorized corridor interests. A foundation has been set to more fully lever these valuable alignments in this country’s most populous state. This synthesis was undertaken to document current practices with respect to rail corri- dor preservation. State departments of transportation (DOTs), selected metropolitan plan- ning organizations, commuter rail agencies, short line holding companies, and Class I rail carriers were all surveyed for information. Response rates to the survey were moderate, averaging 24%, and overall supporting the notion that preservation of rail alignments is not a high-priority issue in many jurisdictions. A handful of state respondents, however, had a great deal of experience and valuable observations on rail preservation policies and could be said to have become experts on this subject through their dealings with several dozen rail corridors over the past two decades. North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania DOTs each have serious, well-established rail sections and a history of successful preser- vation efforts. The success of active state programs appears to flow from a clear policy foundation that positions stakeholder agencies to act in advance of specific abandonment “crisis” situations. These programs include a mixture of loan and grant assistance programs and appear to have benefited from long-term partnership relationships with experienced short line operators. In states with well-funded programs, the success rates for retaining corridors are very high: 103 of 114 attempted preservation initiatives were deemed to be successful in those jurisdic- tions. The structure of public rail assistance for a given line often includes a combination of DOT and local (usually county-based) agencies in a joint-powers relationship designed to pre- serve or rejuvenate a specific rail property. Preservation of lines for transit use more naturally falls into the purview of metropoli- tan planning organizations, with or without planning assistance from state-level agencies. Some cities have made excellent use of preserved alignments: St. Louis Metro service is perhaps the poster child for these opportunities in that grade-separated service to the down- town core for the region’s first new light rail service was provided through 19th century rail tunnels. Recreational interests may prove to be valuable allies in preserving rail corridors, but may also require accommodation if and when efforts are made to restore active rail service along a given line. New tools are provided by 1983 amendments to the Federal Trails Act for such groups to prevent dismemberment of a corridor with or without the support of local land- holders or public agencies. Approximately 20% of the nation’s rail trails have been created through application of the federal rules. SUMMARY PRESERVING FREIGHT AND PASSENGER RAIL CORRIDORS AND SERVICE

The “capacity crisis” that confronts all surface transportation users has yet to have a major effect on public agency perspectives toward dormant or lightly used intercity alignments. Class I freight providers are content to build ever-higher densities on consolidated, fully subscribed main track routes. Advocates of improved intercity passenger rail continue to favor development of higher speed services on those same high-density freight routes despite the challenges of integrating passenger and freight rail operations. Existing state-run rail assistance programs focus understandably on the short- to medium-term economic effects of public rail assistance, which generally translates into support for lines with significant on-line rail industries and employment. Rail service restorations, although relatively uncommon, fall generally into one of three categories: • Startup light rail, commuter rail, or bus rapid transit services. Actions to preserve the align- ments in question were generally led by local planning agencies or transit authorities. • Opening or reopening of a single major rail-dependent facility such as a coal or mineral extraction facility or a large-scale chemical plant. • Reinstitution of general freight service through a collaborative state, county, carrier, or shipper initiative. State grant and loan funds with a requirement for local matches are typical of such restorations. Strategies for extracting better long-term use of the nation’s rail resources may be helped through further targeted assessment of rail corridor issues. 2

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TRB's National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Synthesis 374: Preserving Freight and Passenger Rail Corridors and Service explores issues associated with the retention of railroad rights-of-way or restoration of rail services.

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