By David Lubic
I’m going to give you a well informed opinion…..
This is about more than the railroad company. It’s about the ill-informed, short sighted destruction of a county asset, both as a later travel mode and as history. You already have something like 500 miles of general trails in your county. Hell, the snowmobile crowd alone has 10,500 miles of trail in New York, and that doesn’t include all the other trails meant for hiking and biking (but not for snowmobiles). How many miles can you use?
There are also some serious ownership issues.
Parts of this railroad are not owned outright by the county. Those segments are easements. That’s a type of lease that allows an entity to cross property it doesn’t own. They are quite common for pipelines, electric lines, telephone lines, and railroads.
A problem with easements is what’s called a reversion clause. What that means is if the the railroad goes away, the roadbed reverts to the property owners Those agreements and the reversion clauses read “railroad.” They don’t read “trail,” they don’t read “travel corridor,” or “road.” Take out the railroad, the legal right to cross property not owned outright disappears because of the reversion clause. That’s involving laws and rights that predate railroads.
It means if you want to cross the property, you need a NEW easement agreement and a NEW price. That can get expensive, as some trail people found out in an extreme but real example. In this case, the payments are averaging $5 million per mile. Conversion of a railroad to paving typically is only $1 million per mile. I understand there are something like 36 easement sections on this railroad.
How much do your fellow citizens like money?
You could also condemn that property via eminent domain. That might work, and it might keep the cost down, but you also have to ask, how badly do you want to make your fellow citizens, perhaps even your neighbors, mad at you?
These things don’t go away. There is a battle against a rail trail in Ithaca involving a rail line abandoned in 1956!
What all this means, if you lose the railroad you lose the everything. No railroad–no trail, either.
Rail with trail is what you need.
I’ll add one more comment–if the talk of how many visitors are supposed to come if you chase the railroad away is even halfway accurate, if it seems you have that much confidence, then you can easily–easily!–justify a new trail, some of it along the railroad, some of it wandering away and coming back as needed. You’ll still get the economic benefit without taking out the railroad–and you’ll get the benefit of the railroad, too!