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Rails-with-Trails Safety Workshop Report

A formal look at concerns about trails along active railroads with agencies and interest groups.

From the Federal Railroad Administration

On February 19, 1997, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) hosted an all-day Rails-with-Trails Safety Workshop. The Workshop was convened in response to several requests, including a letter from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), dated September 27, 1996. The letter was addressed to FRA and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and a copy was sent to the Association of American Railroads (AAR), the American Short Line Railroad Association, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTTC), the American Public Transit Association, and the North Carolina Department of Transportation. The letter stated, "Inasmuch as both of your agencies [FHWA and FRAI have direct involvement in rail trails-rail safety programs, I would like to suggest that your offices might be used for a meeting to start a dialogue among the involved partiesto discuss the facts, the concerns, and to work for common solutions."

"The analysis of those trails already in existence, and their successes and failures, would form the basis for best practices."

The 46 participants were from the District of Columbia's metropolitan area and various States, including California, Florida, Illinois, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. They represented seven Federal, two State, and four local government agencies, seven railroads (including one Class 1), seven associations (such as AAR and AASHTO), two labor unions, and a transportation/planner consultant. A list of the participants and their addresses accompanies this report. In addition, there is a list of those who have expressed an interest in the issue of Rails-with-Trails (RWT), but who were not able to attend the workshop.

The agenda included a brief introduction and welcome by Bruce M. Fine, FRA Associate Administrator for Safety. This was followed by a panel representing the interests and concerns of a Class I railroad, RTTC, transportation planning, a small railroad, a State DOT, and AASHTO. The panelists spoke about Rails-with-Trails from their organization's perspective. The balance of the day was spent in discussions among all the participants regarding the issues raised by the panel. In order to facilitate discussion, the participants were divided into five small groups of mixed perspectives, organizations and agencies. Summaries of the small group discussions are attached as an appendix to this report.

The large group discussions following the reports from the small groups resulted in some consensual recommendations for the future. A summary of these recommendations can be broken into three major sections.

First, there was a call for an ongoing dialogue among all of thosewho were present. A suggestion was made to include a representative from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). A representative from NTSB has been contacted since the Workshop, and he has expressed a keen interest enjoining the discussions. His name is included in the lists which accompany this report. Suggestions for facilitating this dialogue included forming a coalition, long-term working group, or task force.

Second, the participants urged data gathering to include, but not limited to: 1) looking at trails already in existence and analyzing what is and is not effective; 2) analyzing statistical information on accident/incidents, trespassing, and possible vandalism which could be attributed to the proximity of a trail to an active rail line; and 3) assessing the potential for using trails to manage and channel trespasser traffic on the railroad property to legal crossings.

Third, the group was adamant that it was neither interested in nor seeking to adopt any regulations, rulemakings, or standards. However, it is looking ultimately to formulate some guidelines in the form of best practices or broad recommendations. It was felt that the best practices strategy would be the most efficient approach, certainly in the early stages. The analysis of those trails already in existence, and their successes and failures, would form the basis for best practices.

The workshop adjourned on a generally hopeful note looking toward a continuation of what was viewed as a start in the right direction-- talking with one another, mutually recognizing that RWT is an issue and attendant problems exist (safety, liability, access, planning and design, future uses and development, etc.), and that the most positive approach to these concerns involves working together to achieve that balance which is best for the communities, trail users, railroads, environment, and our Nation's multi modal transportation network.

February 19, 1997

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