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A Contingent Trip Model for Estimating Rail-trail Demand

The authors develop a contingent trip model to estimate the recreation demand for and value of a potential rail-trail running from Athens to Macon, Georgia. Download complete study ((pdf 478 kb)

By Carter J. Betz, John C. Bergstrom, and J. M. Bowker

Map of Georgia


The authors develop a contingent trip model to estimate the recreation demand for and value of a potential rail-trail site in north-east Georgia. The contingent trip model is an alternative to travel cost modelling useful for ex ante evaluation of proposed recreation resources or management alternatives. The authors estimate the empirical demand for trips using a negative binomial regression specification. Their findings indicate a per-trip consumer surplus rangingfrom US$l8.46 to US$29.23 and a price elasticity of - 0.68. In aggregate, they estimate that the rail-trail would receive approximately 416 213 recreation visits per year by area households and account for a total consumer surplus in excess of US$7.5 million.

"Tthe rail-trail would receive approximately 416 213 recreation visits per year by area households and account for a total consumer surplus in excess of $7.5 million."


Many rail-trails have considerable tourism potential, in addition to their scenic qualities, because of their connection with the national heritage of railways and the trail link they provide between communities located along the trail. The former Central of Georgia railway line (now Norfolk Southern) in north-east Georgia has attracted attention as an ideal setting for establishing a rail-trail. A 23-mile stretch of tracks near Athens, Georgia, is envisioned as both a recreation and transportation resource for local residents and a potential regional tourist attraction.

One segment of interest to rail-trail advocates connects the towns of Watkinsville and Madison. Some locals refer to it as the Antebellum rail-trail (ART), after the Antebellum Trail promotional name given to US Highway 441, which it parallels, by the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism. Despite being out of service for several years, this line has not been legally abandoned by Norfolk Southern. The proposed ART corridor has many factors necessary for a successful rail-trail. There are historic towns at either end to anchor the trail, each with thriving arts and cultural communities. The northern terminus of the ART would be located less than 10 miles from Athens, with its 30,000-plus University of Georgia students and more than 100,000 metropolitan area residents. The rail-trail's attractive setting in the Georgia Piedmont includes three trestle crossings over the Apalachee River and it is near many other regional recreation and tourism attractions, e.g. the Oconee National Forest and Lake Oconee, the State Botanical Gardens of Georgia and Hard Labor Creek State Park.

The basic research question motivating this study is whether a market exists for the proposed ART and, if so, what is an estimate of access value to the ART. More specifically, objectives of the research were to: (1) estimate a demand function for recreation trips to the ART; (2) examine the sensitivity of demand for ART trips to changes in the trip price and other socio-economic factors; (3) estimate the recreation use value of the resource; and (4) discuss policy implica-tions and recommendations for further research that arise from the economic analysis. In addressing their objectives, the authors present a method that is both a lower-cost alternative to collecting data on-site and a viable option for planners seeking to address demand for currently undeveloped recreation resources.

Summary and Conclusions

This study examined the demand for and value of access to a proposed rail-trail that would result from conversion of a 23-mile-long stretch of abandoned railway corridor in north-east Georgia to a public use trail that prohibits motorized vehicles. Rail-trails have been touted for providing much-needed close-to-home recreation resources that support popular activities like walking, bicycling, in-line skating and wildlife viewing. In many cases, they are also considered important regional tourism attractions that bring in significant amounts of visitor spending to local economies.

The authors used a contingent trip approach, a stated preference variant of the travel cost method, to estimate net benefits or consumer surplus values associ-ated with rail-trail trips. This approach provides a cost-effective alternative to on-site sampling and more traditional travel cost modelling in a number of ways. First, it allows planners to obtain demand and value information about a potential site or management alternative at a given site for which comparable studies do not exist. Secondly, it incorporates information from non-users into the formulation of the demand model, thus circumventing problems of zero-truncation and endogenous stratification (Siderelis & Moore, 1995).

Although the CTM or TRM has been applied in past studies, more research using this type of hybrid model is recommended to verify its utility and validity. The authors' findings of per-trip consumer surplus and price elasticity suggest that the per-trip economic measures are reasonable. These results notwithstand-ing, there are a number of limitations and caveats that must be mentioned. First, the CTM is still subject to criticism associated with its intended behaviour underpinning. Nevertheless, techniques based on hypothetical or intended be-haviour are prevalent in marketing research conducted in the private sector. However, there exists an important need to develop comparison experiments whereby the aggregate use estimates developed from CTM models can be validated against actual counts. Secondly, with a response rate of about 40%, the possibility of non-response bias is a concern. In this study, income levels of sample respondents were reasonably close to census figures for the region. However, the minorities are under-represented, while males and college gradu-ates are over-represented.

The most salient policy implication from this study is the basic fact that a discernible demand for the proposed ART would exist with considerable econ-omic value. Identification of tourism markets is critical because they represent the demand side of the industry, without which there would be no need for tourism suppliers or producers. It is expected that the ART's potential market would consist primarily of regional day users. There was some evidence, however, of potential users living beyond a one- to two-hour drive, as far away as 200 miles one-way. This has important implications with respect to tourism development objectives, as the ART would possess attributes and characteristics similar to other rail-trails in the USA that have proven to be successful tourism attractions.

The estimates of aggregate value would prove useful to a cost-benefit analysis assessing the economic feasibility of converting the rail corridor to a public use trail. If costs exceeded the most conservative value estimate, decision makers would need to weigh the credibility of the other estimates in the process. The authors did not consiAugust 17, 2008ing of acquisition, development, maintenance, economic and other costs to convert the corridor into the ART would be fairly straightforward.

Model findings might also have implications for the marketing and manage-ment of the proposed ART. One is an improved understanding of the potential users. For example, none of the basic socio-economic variables was statistically significant, indicating that among respondents, no specific demographic segment would more likely to frequent the rail-trail. However, whites, males and college graduates were over-represented in the sample, suggesting that results from a single-stage model should be interpreted cautiously. More research is needed before conclusions can be drawn about the type of individuals that would characterize the market. The cost variables show that users do respond to price at less than unitary elasticity. This is important information if user fees were ever considered. Not surprisingly, the more avid potential users would be bicyclists and those with previous rail-trail experience. This knowledge of users could prove useful toward building constituent groups and public support.

More economic research on the demand for and valuation of rail-trails is warranted as these dormant resources are considered for conversion to viable recreation destinations. As a relatively new and increasingly popular type of recreation resource, additional, credible economic information about the benefits and costs of these resources is needed. Very little previous work addressing economic values of rail-trails has been accomplished. More is needed for comparative purposes. More research has evaluated the more generic ‘green-ways', especially in urban areas. While similar in many respects, there are distinctive differences between rail-trails and the more general greenways, including types of surfaces, lengths, grades, environments and settings. All rail-trails are also considered ‘greenways', but the reverse is not true.

Research into user preferences for the various attributes of greenways and rail-trails would help improve understanding of economic value and demand. Of particu-lar interest would be knowing more about the differences in attributes (beyond just their location) between greenways and rail-trails that are recognized as tourist attractions and those that are not. More information on the characteristics of individuals who demand rail-trail trips, perhaps through some kind of clustering technique that examined demographics with attitudes and desired attributes, would also prove helpful in improving rail-trail demand models.

US Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Southern Research Station, 320 Greene Street, Athens, GA 30602-2044, USA. E-mail: ‘Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, University of Georgia, GA, USA. .PUblished in Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 46(l), 79-96, 2003

Download complete study ((pdf 478 kb)

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