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Rail right-of-way acquisition through greenfield developments?


Everybody has heard the claim that most new urbanist greenfield developments are just repackaged auto-centric suburbs because there is little or no public transport, right?

Well, I'd like to research the ways railroad right-of-ways can be planned into these greenfield communities using the legal code. A transit agency might not have the money to build something now, but right-of-way acquisition now would reduce cost of building a system in the future. Does one have to buy (eminent domain) right-of-way or can it be zoned using the police power(takings problems?), through easements, bargaining etc.

What do you think? Any problems, recommendations? Thanks!


A few years back Metra built a new rail line through Chicago's northwest suburbs. I'm not sure if it was a rebuild of a former line or strictly new, or how they went about obtaining the right of way, but it might be one to check out. At the same time, Chicago has an example of a reserved road right of way that will never be built. Although the land is reserved and I believe even mostly owned by IDOT, the area has been heavily settled and the people living there don't want the adverse impacts. Not having another highway to encourage sprawl may not be a bad thing, but a rail lline could have similar problems. High speed rail linking Chicago and Minneapolis is being fought by some towns that are afraid of fast trains.


Rail Line ROW for Future Use

I suppose it would be possible to require dedication of rail right-of-way through the platting process provided a CIP was in place and with a reasonable level of financial assurances that the line will be built. Perhaps a CIP and Impact Fee package. However, you are left with the problem of a "new urban" or TOD development with a delay in infrastructure. You may have congestion problems until the line is built. I imagine building the line piecemeal will be more costly than building a substantial length of line at once.


mike gurnee

Many states have enabling legislation for "official maps", which designate future rights of way. Lots and structures then have to be set back from the future ROW. It is not a dedication, but rather a reservation--allowing the jurisdiction to purchase/condemn the unimproved land. Usually you have the follow the same procedure as jamesholland outlined (CIP, financial assurances). The advantage over dedication would be that you have a longer time frame to acquire the land, the disadvantage is you have to pay for it (albeit at the unimproved price).

You could be creative and have a dedication for greenspace/trail/potential transit.