On March 10, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case of Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust et al. v. United States. The issue in this case was whether the federal government retains an interest in railroad rights-of-way that were created by the federal General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875, after the cessation of railroad activity on the corridor.
The Brandt property lies along the corridor of the Medicine Bow Rail Trail in Wyoming, a former disused rail corridor inside Medicine Bow National Forest that was converted into a public trail.
As the only national organization in America solely committed to defending the preservation of former railroad corridors for continued public use, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) filed an “amicus brief” in December 2013 supporting the established legal precedent that says the United States does retain an interest in the corridor.
Last week, the Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 in favor of Marvin Brandt. While RTC is disappointed by the decision, after examining the details of its potential impact, we believe that the vast majority of rail-trails and rail-trail projects will not be directly affected. Existing rail-trails or trail projects are not affected by this decision if any of the following conditions are met:
Click here for a downloadable infographic outlining the criteria above.
The ruling only affects non-railbanked corridors that were created from federally granted rights-of-way through the 1875 Act. And we know that most railroad corridors created under this federal law are located west of the Mississippi River.
Because there isn’t a federal database on federally granted rights-of-way, it isn’t possible to answer exactly how many miles of corridor this applies to. What we can say is that, unfortunately, the ruling will likely increase future litigation over these corridors. We anticipate more cases in the future in which the federal government will be forced to compensate adjoining landowners in order to maintain public access to some well-loved trails.
This can be a significant challenge for the trail community. We need to ensure that fear of lawsuits does not deter people from moving forward with trails that communities need and have a right to build.
The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the 10th Circuit Court, where RTC’s legal team will work to narrow the ultimate impact of the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Since 1986, RTC's legal program has fought to preserve rail corridors as public recreation and transportation assets at the local, national and federal levels in more than 50 cases, as well as before Congress and administrative agencies. RTC is the foremost, and often the only, legal advocate for rail-trails in the United States, work that is fully funded by RTC members.
I am an avid cyclist and enjoy the trails, but I do not believe that my recreation is more important than a landowner's property rights. I applaud the Supreme Court's ruling.
please keep up the good fight!
In Kansas, and I suspect other states, rail banked trails are right of way easements and not fee simple ownership of the land, regardless of how acquired. SRT has held that it is each inhdividual state that determines land issues. Therefor, whenever the rail road right ofd way easement is abandoned, the owner of the land (fee simple) burdened with the easement (sometimes called the "servient estate") is restored to possession of the abandoned rigsht of way. That is the primary reason to RAILBANK -- evedn if it is not "developed" beyond a primitive trail immjediately.
The Supreme Court's assault on the Commons will continue until these right-wing zealots are replaced. The only rights they recognize are private property rights. I would not be surprised to see them extend the ruling to railroad rights-of-way acquired prior to the 1875 statute.
Great wealth was acquired by having these rail lines pass through the west. Landowners benefiting from this owe at the least the use of a rail trail passing through. Rex
I'm all for turning unused railbeds into trails but the US is stupid to abandon our once great rail system.
How can I know if a specific corridor by name is impacted and what the impact is?
koodo's. RTC is a strong and adamant organization, thus so manu supporters. We as trail users admire and appreciate the many open trails and we know we some rail trails are not to be.
RTC is an example of community that cares for all people and our wonderful country.
YOu have my support the rest of my life!
Please keep fighting. It is vital that this decision, which is a dreadful legal precedent, not be allowed to destroy the Rails-to-Trails movement.
Thank you for all that you do.
Someone here is not seeing the broader vision. As in many areas across the country, the rail-trails here in Wisconsin are connectors of communities. They are vital assets, in many cases, as they help bring in tourism dollars whether through bicycling, snowmobiling, or cross-country skiing.
Rail-trails are liner parkways in rural areas where one can cross a variety of ecosystems and see abundant varieties of wildlife in a way not otherwise possible. I believe that Mr. Brandt has his rights as a landowner, but I also believe that he may be short sighted.
Thanks for the legal mumbo-jumbo. Who EXACTLY is Marvin M. Brandt, and why was he suing the Feds? In PLAIN ENGLISH, this time please, so that we non-attorneys can fully understand it.
Thank you very much for your effort!!!!! Proud to be a member of your RTC.
I was one of 3 people (Cat Martin, Judy ?) on the original Medicine Bow rail trail committee started in 2001 at the request of Bob Young from WYDOT. We always knew there was an ownership grey area in Fox Park and the cabin owners there were told we would bike around the row in dispute (easy detour). Just before I left WY is sounded like the Foresat Service felt they really had ownership of that property and were going to pursue it legally. If I can fill in any further details firstname.lastname@example.org
As unfortunate as this ruling is, the greater concern to me is that the foremost legal advocate for rail-trails in the US presumably had only enough influence to garner 1 supportive vote from the Supreme Court justices. How do we as an organization ensure that we have better arguments that provide increased opportunities for future courts to rule in our favor?
This Court decision, albeit narrow in the legal precedent ramifications, has already caused wide-spread misapprehension and encouraged resistance to trail proposals. I compliment RTC for your immediate clarifications. However - all of us as trail supporters MUST pass along the RTC clarifications and help local officials gain an accurate understanding of the issues.
Public good should be the first priority.
My wife and I contribute to fund Rails To Trails activity and appreciate the opportunity to use the trails.
We also agree with the sanctity of personal property rights guaranteed by our Constitution that are crucial to the freedoms we have in the USA as individuals. We fully endorse the importance of retaining the rights of individual property owners to use their property as they see fit.
When a section of their property is desired by the Rails To Trails organization we should be willing to purchase or lease that property from the rightful owners or find an alternative route.
Seems like another example of this Supreme Court placing the selfish desires of "the few" above the "good of the many". Same rational for the government selling at bargain prices land from closed military bases. Many rail corridors and all military bases are properties that taxpayers funded or were misappropriated from native peoples. I wish there was a little more background about how this land was used and how the Brandt Trust entered the picture.
The good of the many -health, community, fun, adventure, commuting, non polluting public use the rails converted to trails far out weighs the stubborn, selfishness of the few. If they can not see the value of the legacy - never give upbon humanity and that wisdom and kindness will ultimately prevail.
If a local utility had an easement through your backyard which they later voluntarily gave up, should I have the right to star using your backyard since there was once an easement there ?
I think another way to adapt to this is to let people who refuse trails on rail way lines near their property refuse and lose the value to their property that will come with losing a trail. Conversely using examples of how such trails have increased property values and helped communities could be a way to convince reasonable people to share such right of ways.
Let the stingy and myopic alond-we don't need them. Let their karma bite them back.
I also disagree with the court's decision but they made it and now we have to look at saving the rails/trails in a new light.
To bad the court isn't made up of a few cyclists. Having been on a few of these trails I can't see where cyclists haven't for the most part been good neighbors.
How does this terrible ruling effect the Medicine Bow Trial? Will it continue to exist?
Please work for our trails. In many places, these are the last bit of nature available for the community to enjoy, as millions of acres are being lost to development, and landscapes destroyed forever. I'm sure this is the problem---greed! Developers will pay landowners much more than the land is worth, in order to make their own development deals and millions of dollars into their own pockets. We are seeing this everywhere as farms are selling out their land for bigger profit than they can make farming. Capitalism at its finest!, at the public expense, as the loss of these trails and lands is our greatest loss!
Thanks for clarifying that. It's unfortunate when even one penny of funding has to go to legal challenges instead of trail acquisition and building.
Thanks for keeping us informed RTC!!
God bless the RTC for fighting the good fight!
If a right-of-way (ROW) was granted specifically for railroad use and the current ROW owner wants to use if for some other use, the landowner SHOULD be compensated. No different than the ROW across or in front of most people's yard for utilities. If the utility now decided to put in a high speed train within its ROW, the landowner would want to be compensated for the use of the ROW which differed from when the ROW was granted.
Keep up the efforts.. Thanks..
Alan-To answer your question: Brandt owns a piece of ground he got properly from the US, but AFTER the RR got its ROW in 1906. The ROW was "for railroad purposes" The deed (Patent) from the US to Brandt's predecessor stated the the deed to Brandt was subject to the RR ROW. In 1994 the RR went through the legal process to formerly abandon its right of way. The US said at the time that the ROW was terminated. So Brandt owned his property free of any ROW. For the legal nitty gritty, this ruling only applies to ROWs issued under the 1875 act, which is not the federal act under which most RR ROWs were issued. The Supreme Court said that the 1875 act only allowed grants to RRs of a right-of-way only, no other rights. The court followed the exact argument that the US had previously ruled when it said that the US owned the minerals under such ROWs because only a right-of-way was granted--nothing more. The Supreme Court said, the US can't argue in one setting that the RR got more than just a ROW (the Brandt case) while in the mineral case the US previously argued that the RR got ONLY a ROW.
It does not appear the old Milwaukee Road corridor, from Chicago to Seattle, meets any of the six tests laid out above. Currently this old rail line has no railroad tracks from about the middle of Montana to Seattle, and it is an excellent candidate for being part of a transcontinental bike trail. A few bits of this ROW are already in private hands. Does this ruling mean the rest of it is in danger of falling into private hands? Is endless litigation all the future holds for the Milwaukee Road?
I guess a more general question to RTC is, how can we find out the status of a particular rail trail?
Those who blame this on a right winged court are blind to the facts. That argument is for when the vote is 5-4. This was almost unanimous, with the one decenter being the most socialist judge. It is a very narrow ruling which seems logical. I really don't see this impacting 99% of situations. Although I will agree with the previous post that some will only read the headline, then oppose trails.
A key point here is "railbanking". It is my understanding that the term means that a railroad right-of-way so designated is being reserved for the future possible reactivation for railroad use. Railbanking serves to keep the corridor intact. In the time until such reactivation takes place, other temporary uses such as hiking and/or bicycle trails are permitted. Railbanking is a crucial underpinning of RTC's legal status. So it is conterproductive to RTC's interests to advocate tearing up an active railroad to put in a trail. I refer to the Adirondack Scenic Railroad between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid, NY. At least twice on RTC's internet newsletter articles have appeared which seem to indicate RTC advocacy of tearing up this active railroad. The trail people there have resorted to vandalism and sabotage of the railroad in order to have their way. Trail opponents across the country could use this to destroy whatever credibility that RTC has left in any future litigation. It is for this reason that I no longer support RTC. I will continue to support individual trail proposals, but not RTC as it is currently constituted.
I am a trail supporter and user but to those who wonder why RTC didn't have more influence in the decision and are critical of the court, sometimes issues are actually decided by what the existing law says.
many thanks for your input. Here's a little factual background on our involvement with the Adirondacks proposal to clear up any misconceptions.
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy was contacted by residents of the Tri-Lakes area in November of 2011, with a request to conduct an evaluation of the 34-mile rail corridor between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake, examine design and construction options for a multi-use trail along the corridor, and estimate the benefits of such a trail.
The idea for a rail-trail along this corridor came from the residents and businesspeople of the area. As a national expert in the development of rail-trails and rail-with-trails, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is uniquely placed to evaluate the suitability of the corridor for trail development, and help local communities understand the options, challenges and opportunities of a particular trail proposal.
The decision about what is the best use for that corridor will be made by those same locals, which is terrific. Our experience with similar projects helped the local community evaluate the design options and potential impact of a rail-trail. Sometimes rail-with-trail (trail alongside an active freight or passenger line) is the best option, and our promotion of rail-with-trail projects has helped preserve and enhance hundreds of miles of active rail line across the country. Sometimes, because of the width of the corridor or other factors, it isn’t a good option. We hope the study we published at their request helps the people of the Tri-Lakes area make a good decision about the best use for what is a remarkable corridor through a truly beautiful part of America.
Any article you may have read that claims we are actively advocating for the removal of the existing train tracks is either making misguided assumptions, or is poorly informed.
Thanks for your support.
Jake Lynch - email@example.com
I hope they don't find a loophole with the National Parks. keep fighting for the greater good!
The pivotal date for whether the Supreme Court's opinion applies to a rail corridor appears to be 1871, not 1875, as RTC claims. The Supreme Court's opinion identifies a half-dozen or so 1871-1875 right-of-way "retail" grants that the 1875 "wholesale" grant law copied.
Fortunately there is still meaning to property rights. When the right of way was created, the railroad could have acquired fee title had they been willing to pay for it. The rights of the Rails to Trails people can rise no higher than the owners of the original rail right of way. If the public wants to acquire the ground for a public use the governing body, vested with the power of eminent domain can condemn the ground but they would have to pay the fair value for what they acquire. If you want to own it, buy it. But the public is not entitled to a windfall just because it is a nice use.
Have been cycling trails for years. Enjoy them. But the SCOTUS was correct per our Constitution and founders.
• “The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of every citizen in his person and property and in their management.” –Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816.
• Under private property ... Each tries to establish over the other an alien power, so as thereby to find satisfaction of his own selfish need. -- Marx, Human Requirements and Division of Labour (1844)
• The slave frees himself when, of all the relations of private property, he abolishes only the relation of slavery and thereby becomes a proletarian; the proletarian can free himself only by abolishing private property in general. -- Engels, Principles of Communism (1847)
It would seem that lands originally given for free (homesteaded, etc) by the US Govt would have some recognition as being reasonably expected to be eligible for re-purchase if in the public interest (interstate highways, rail lines, etc).
Unfortunately, the only alternative that I can visualize (other than buying the land from willing sellers), would be the railbank option, by declaring the ROW as too valuable as a future transportation line to cede back to the landowners. We have no idea how valuable these right of ways will be in the future (and how incredibly difficult to re-assign as eminent domain). Tough choices.....
I work directly with a large current crowd of bicyclists, and promotion for increasing numbers as a sustainable means of transportation. I daily ride rail trails and have been a supporter since Elroy/Sparta in WI.
Why all the handwringing? This decision will not put a end to America's Rails-Trails. It simply and only means that when a rail-trail is built the entity building it must pay the rightful owner of the land for the value of the land taken. For all those who say Mr. Brandt (actually his Trust, which has legal obligations itself in handling the trust property) should be willing to give up its property for the "good" of the masses. That is an easy statement to make until it is "your" property the govermnet is taking without paying for it. Rails-trails will continue to exist. If the users are worried about the costs of building these great trails for them to use then they should be willing to pay a small fee for using them like we all pay to enter & enjoy many of our National Parks or leave "voluntary contributions" like at some Forest Service campgrounds.
Rail banking is the right way to go about most trail development anyway. The reality is that one of the most valuable aspects of rails to trails is that the trail can go back to rail in the future if needed. Many railroads were abandoned when the population of the US was much smaller, and the US continues to grow. These rights of way must be preserved to protect the potential for future rail and trail use. Rails and trails can live together as well. As an aside, the original property owner was already compensated for the right of way, or there were no adjoining property owners prior to the railroad being built because the land was owned by the US. The claims of the property rights zealots are specious anyway, and the SCOTUS got the law wrong yet again.
I wonder how the ruling applies to the Medicine Bow National Forest considering a national forest is considered public land unless, of course the property owner's land borders on the national forest and the railway and not through it. The fact that none of us know the complete details of the case means conjecture by any of us about this case is moot. Maybe we haven't seen the last of this case.
The Brandt family has owned land in the area since 1946. In 1976, they agreed to an exchange with the Forest Service - the Brandts gave up about 220 acres scattered throughout the forest, in exchange for one 83-acre tract. The patent giving title to the Brandts noted the railroad right-of-way as an easement "for railroad purposes".
If there's a utility easement running through your yard, that means utilities can be run through, and you can't interfere with them, even though you own the property. You can't build a shed on the easement, for instance, because that would interfere with the utility company's access. If the utility company abandons the easement, they give up their right to use that strip of your yard for utilities. You still own the property, but now free of that former restriction.
Some folks here seem to think the Brandt family are evil, selfish people, because (1) they own land, and (2) they won't just allow untold numbers of strangers to roam through their property. (I especially love the comment about placing the selfish desires of "the few" above the "good of the many".)
Hint, people - this is the US. Supreme Court cases are supposed to be decided on the basis of the LAW, not the "good of the many".
I love the RTT but a landowner rights do take priority. Instead of investing in a legal battle, invest in the purchase of the property.
Right on Mary I agree, people want to use private land void the taxes. Why don't more people get together and by property on which they can enjoy as well as have the right to pay cray property tax.The government owes RTT nothing and By the way why don't all the supporters tear down their back fences and let people trail through their back yard!!!!!
Its the pretty simple rules that everyone should have learned by the age of 5. If it isnt yours, dont play with it. If the person who owns it wont let you play with it, dont play with it. Taking what doesnt belong to you is wrong.
I have come to believe that 99% of people in the US dont have a clue as to what a ROW, easement, or even property line is. That ignorance drives posted signs and fences because L/O's are tired of trespass incursions.
When a L/O makes a agreement with a utility (RR inclusive) for a ROW, they agree on a binding contract with specific terms.
Gas lines are a easy current example. A L/O (Doug) makes a agreement with Bobs Natural Gas (BNG) for the explicit purpose of running a 12 inch gas line across his property with the option of running 2 more. Each time the gas company runs a line, Doug gets paid because Doug is the sole owner of the property. When the gas stops flowing and the line is abandoned, the entire use of the property reverts back to Doug, his heirs or the current owner.
Unless it is in the contract, BNG has NO right to sell, transmit, to anyone, or use the ROW for ANY other purpose other than to run gas line. No one else has any right to use that ROW in any way, shape, matter or form. No utility, hikers, bikers, hunters, 4 wheelers, or naked dog walkers. BNG cannot even come onto the ROW on Dougs property without a valid reason such as trimming or looking for leaks because Doug STILL owns it. What is the differance between someone coming into your house and using your shower when you are no longer in it, your pool when they choose or have a bbq on your front porch and you biking across Dougs land?
The argument about the good of the many is filled with bit of hubris also. Yes there are a lot of bike riders and walkers using RT. As a percentage of total population of a area it is miniscule.
I have used RT and as long as the property was aquired honestly, not with legal BS like Railbanking, I am all for it. RR will come back right after the US becomes the worlds top steel producer again, AKA never so it is a legal farce. If it did make a comeback, most of the rail goes to industriaised places that have not been in use for 50 years and could never be put back in use. Even if the EPA was disbanded tommorow they would still not be used. To do anything else other than buying the property without the gun of govt. to his/her head, is theft. ED is supposed to be for public NEED, not a selfish desire of a small group. A bridge across a river to access a community is a need, a bike trail isnt. Quite a few states tightened up their ED law after that disaster in CN so proving a public need for a bike trail to rise to the level of ED isnt a given. Nice to have? Sure, so what? I could go for a Starbucks Pike Place right now but I dont think I have a right to put a gun to someones head and make them use their resourses to go buy me one even if I flip them a 5 dollar bill after.
To all of you who think you have inherent rights to private property, you need to read the law. This case merely affirmed that private property is private, meaning it's not yours. Keep acting as though you own it and you will certainly realize that bitter truth. Hopefully you will not have to learn that lesson being arrested for trespassing.
By Glen Hansen In Brandt Trust v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 134 S. Ct. 1257, 188 L.Ed.2d 272 (2014), the U.S. Supreme Court held that rights of way granted by the U.S. Government to railroads under the General Railroad...
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