Take Action to Protect Rail-banking for Trail Development

Speak Up by Nov 1st to Thwart an Attack on Trail Creation at the Federal Level

From our friends at Rails to Trails: Proposed Rule Threatens Railbanking

Earlier this month, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) began considering a rule proposed by opponents to railbanking that would restrict railbanking negotiations to six 180-day extensions—essentially three years—except under “extraordinary circumstances.” Many rail-trail managers know that negotiations can unfortunately persist beyond that time, whether for regulatory, funding or other legitimate reasons. Trail managers and advocates have until Nov. 1 to file comments in opposition to the proposed rule.

 It will be particularly valuable for the STB to hear directly from those who have benefited from railbanking negotiations lasting longer than three years. The easiest way to submit comments is to use the STB’s e-filing system to attach your comments as a file. Be sure to follow all the instructions listed. Comments are classified as “Other Submissions,” which do not require a filing fee nor the creation of a user account. The docket number is EP-749-1. 

Can you imagine biking in Wisconsin without the following trails whose negotiations took more than three years and would not be able to be developed under the proposed rule:

Oak Leaf Trail, Seven Lakes State Trail, Glacial River Trail, Eisenbahn State Trail, Fox River State Trail, Red Cedar State Trail and Cannonball Path.

The Bugline Trail is a 16-mile stretch of retired railroad turned into bike trails.

 Click the link  to see a list of successful projects where negotiations extended beyond three years: Railbanked corridors_negotiations extending 3 years(1)

The Bike Fed’s letter is below, feel free to use it as a template by copying and pasting it:

RE: Docket EP-749-1 – Proposed Rulemaking to Limit NITU’s to a Maximum of Six (6) 180-Day Extensions

Ms. Cynthia T. Brown
Chief, Section of Administration
Office of Proceedings
Surface Transportation Board
395 E Street, SW
Washington, DC 20423

Dear Ms. Brown,

These comments, filed on behalf of Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin are in opposition to a proposed rule by the STB to require that the number of extensions of the trail use negotiation period not exceed six, or essentially three years.

The purpose of railbanking is to preserve our country’s railroad corridors and allow for interim trail use. Railbanking has not only transformed thousands of communities across the country by providing safe public spaces for recreation and transportation, it has also preserved thousands of miles of rail corridors that would otherwise have been abandoned. Assembly of these rights-of-way in modern times would be nearly impossible. Railbanking keeps rail corridors intact.

Imposing a 3-year limitation on negotiations would greatly obstruct – and in some cases prevent – railbanking to occur. Of the 393 successfully railbanked corridors, 65 of them took more than 3 years of negotiation between the railroad and the CITU/NITU holder to complete. There are a variety of reasons that negotiations may extend, including: federal and state regulatory processes (environmental assessment, e.g.), the trail manager’s ability to secure state or federal funds for acquisition, and appraisal disputes. There is no reason to limit railbanking negotiations. The process of railbanking, including agreement to extend negotiations, is completely voluntary for the railroad. “Reversionary property owners” have available to them means of compensation through this process as well.

The Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin (Wisconsin Bike Fed) represents the 2.5 million people that get on a bicycle in Wisconsin each year. We appreciate the economic value railbanking trails bring to Wisconsin. With offices in Milwaukee and Madison, we see daily, the benefits the Oak Leaf Trail brings to Milwaukee providing a comfortable corridor from the north and the south sides of the community making it possible for many people to choose to ride a bicycle to work, school, errands and social events.

The Cannonball Trail in Dane County has made it possible to get from near downtown Madison to Ftichburg, a southern suburb crossing over a busy four lane highway and connect to a hub of four other trails.

As we travel across the state we see the growing number of bicyclists out on the trails contributing to the economy of our state through purchases of food and beverages at restaurants, participation in local concerts and events and purchases of clothing and bicycles at our retailers.

As an organization, the Wisconsin Bike Fed focuses on road safety. We know that the number of people bicycling increases when people have a safe and comfortable place to ride. Railbanked trails provide a comfortable place for people to ride, increasing the number of people riding for many purposes.

If the STB were to consider changes related to railbanking negotiations, a suggested improvement would be to change the initial railbanking/interim trail negotiating period to establish a one-year period (instead of 180 days) for any initial and subsequent negotiating periods. From experience in our , negotiations between Milwaukee, Wisconsin railroads and Interim Trail Users almost always extend beyond the short 180-day timeframe, creating additional and unnecessary obstacles for both the railroad and the Interim Trail User.

Thank you for your consideration,

Dave Schlabowske

Executive Director

About Carolyn Dvorak, Southwest Region Director

Carolyn lives in La Crosse with her husband and two daughters. She has loved riding a bicycle throughout her life. She enjoys working in the La Crosse area helping to create great places to bicycle.

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