By Dom Nozzi
It has been common in recent decades for railroad rights of way to be abandoned by railroad companies. Many communities have seized this opportunity to convert such abandonments to “rail-trails” that serve the recreational and utilitarian needs of bicyclists and pedestrians.
“Rail-banking” should be considered an effort that works in tandem with the creation of rail-trails. The term refers to what I believe is the desirable effort to retain the linear integrity and value of a railroad right-of-way (ROW) corridor for future (probably inevitable) use as a restored, active railroad line.
I am convinced that the American rail system will be restored to its former glory as a passenger and freight system—particularly as car and truck travel becomes increasingly dysfunctional with the inevitable rise in the price of gasoline. When that happens, formerly abandoned rail ROW corridors will become immensely valuable, because the cost of assembling such corridors from scratch will be enormous.
In the “interim” period we are in right now, abandoned rail ROW is not much in demand for rail restoration. Such corridors are therefore often in great danger of being lost forever by adjacent property owners buying back the ROW that they used to own in the past. When that happens (which, throughout the nation, has been often), the corridor ROW “integrity” and value has been mostly lost, because it can be extremely costly to buy back such pieces to restore the ROW corridor. Often, loss of pieces of the ROW means the corridor has been lost forever as a corridor.
Rail “banking,” then, is an effort to use such abandoned ROW corridors as recreational trails so that they are protected from being bought back, piece by piece, by adjacent land owners.
In the future, this recreational ROW corridor can be restored as an active rail line. In some cases, that would mean that the recreational function has been lost, to allow the corridor to be used by trains again (and I’m mostly okay with that). In the best case scenario, though, the corridor can become a rail WITH trail that allows active train use to co-exist with recreational trail use that typically is moved to run next to the rail line.
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