Rails-to-Trails on the US Supreme Court docket

This article discussing cases of interest to local governments recently accepted for argument by the US Supreme Court was originally posted on the International City/County Management Association website here.  Of particular concern to readers of this blog is Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States.

“In Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States the Court will decide who owns an abandoned railroad right-of-way:  the United States or a private land owner living next to the right-of-way.  In 1875 Congress passed a law granting rights-of-way to railroads through public land. Over the course of the next century, as trucking became a more popular method of transport, numerous railroads abandoned these rights-of-way.  The United States argues that a 1922 federal statute allows the United States to retain the railroad right-of-way if it is abandoned. If that is the case and the abandoned right-of-way is located in a city, the city automatically receives it from the federal government for free. If the abandoned right-of-way is located elsewhere, a state or local government receives it for free if it establishes a “public highway” on the right-of-way within one year.  State and local governments typically convert abandoned railroad rights-of-way into “Rails-to-Trails.”

Local governments often own and maintain abandoned railroad rights-of-way. In fact, the Supreme Court usually accepts cases where at least two federal circuit courts of appeals have ruled differently on the same issue. In Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States the Tenth Circuit ruled in favor of the United States. In a similar case, Samuel C. Johnson 1988 Trust v. Bayfield County, Wisconsin, the Seventh Circuit ruled against Bayfield County, which intended to build snowmobile trials on the abandoned railroad right-of-way.”

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