In January of 2021, the MTA Metro-North Railroad announced it was launching a project to create the Beacon Line Rail Trail. This recreational trail is 41 miles long and will run through Duchess and Putnam Counties. This portion of trail is the continuation of the Empire State Trail project started in 2017 by Governor Cuomo.
History of the Beacon Line
The Beacon Line railway was constructed in 1882 between Beacon, New York and Danbury, Connecticut. The railway served as a link between the Hudson River and the railroads of western Connecticut. In its early years, the railway was used to shuttle freight and passenger cars across the Hudson. Shortly after 1907, the passenger use of this railway greatly declined, giving way to the use of trucks, busses and automobiles. The railway continued to transport freight, reaching a peak during World War II. This route was abruptly terminated in 1974 by a major fire that damaged the Poughkeepsie Bridge.
In 1995, this 41-mile portion of railway was purchased by Metro-North. In 2000, a reactivation study was conducted which determined that it was not cost-effective to reinstate passenger service; reactivation was not recommended. In 2021, Metro-North announced that it would be filing to abandon the line and convert it to an interim trail.
Converting The Railway to a Trailway
In February of this year, Metro-North filed a petition for this portion of railway to be used as a trail. If the petition is granted, the process of converting the railway to a trail will begin. Construction of the railway will be funded by New York State, through funds administered by the Hudson River Valley Greenway.
Metro-North Railroad will oversee the design and construction of the project. The proposed trail is set to be approximately 12 feet wide and surfaced with asphalt. It will be a shared-use bicycling and pedestrian path running from Brewster to Beacon, New York.
Who determines if the railway can be converted to a trailway?
Conversion of the Beacon line will be authorized by the Surface Transportation Board (STB). The STB is a federal agency that oversees railroads and has the ability to authorize or deny the conversion of a railroad right-of-way to a recreational trail. This process is known as “railbanking” and effectively converts the railroad right-of-way to a recreational space permanently.
This process is governed by the Trails Act, enacted by Congress in 1983, which seeks to preserve these corridors of land that were used by railroad companies.
To learn more about the Trails Act, check out our Landowners’ Guide to the Trails Act.
What if I own property adjacent to the railway?
If your property is directly adjacent to this proposed trail, you may have a Trails Act claim. Many times landowners with claims are unaware of their ability to obtain compensation for the taking of their property which is within the railway. You may have assumed that the railroad owns the land in the corridor; however, under the “centerline presumption,” the landowner is presumed to own the land within the corridor which directly abuts their property.
Based upon this presumption, if the railroad corridor is acquired by an organization and converted to a recreational trail you are owed compensation by the government for the taking of your land.
To be compensated, you as the landowner need to file a takings claim against the federal government. These cases are unique because they are considered “inverse condemnation” and the landowner must affirmatively bring a claim against the government for just compensation.
When filing these claims, it’s important to retain legal counsel that is skilled and experienced in this exact area of law. Our firm, Stewart, Wald & McCulley, is the only law firm in the country that is fully dedicated to rails-to-trails litigation – it is literally all we do. Thus, we have extensive experience with these claims. We have worked hard to recover more than $380 Million for landowners in Rails-to-Trails litigation.
If you own land along this railroad corridor and have questions about your right to a claim or the future of this trail, contact our firm. Our attorneys will help you understand the process for this conversion, your rights, and will help you determine the best way to proceed with your claim.
Does my claim affect the trail being constructed?
No, filing a Trails Act claim will not delay the construction of this trail nor is it adverse to the creation of the trail. These claims are neutral towards the trail, its creators and operators. You are simply filing a case against the federal government asking them to pay you fair compensation for the taking of your land to create this trail.
We are here to help you obtain the compensation you are owed by the government for your property. If you have questions or want to learn more about our firm, contact us at 314-720-0220.