FHWA Rails-with-Trails: Lessons Learned

This report offers conclusions about the lessons learned in the development, construction, and operation of “rails-with-trails” so that railroad companies, trail developers, and others can benefit from the history of trails in existence today.


The data collection and analysis for this study included the following:

  • An analysis of existing literature, focused on RWT studies and projects, legal documents, and railroad safety experience.
  • Focused case studies of 21 geographically diverse RWT projects representing a variety of railroad and trail characteristics. For each trail, researchers conducted interviews with railroad officials, trail managers, and law enforcement officials. They also gathered data about before-and-after conditions related to safety, trespassing, vandalism, and conflicts.
  • Other research topics included the following:
    • Relevant laws and statutes, their effectiveness, and transferability;
    • Relevant legal case studies and precedents;
    • Ownership/use arrangements;
    • Railroad company policies toward RWTs, through a telephone survey of officials;
    • Analysis of current design practices;
    • Operations and maintenance issues, through interviews with train engineers and operations personnel; and
    • Educational efforts underway, through a survey and ongoing discussions with railroad officials, trail managers, and Operation Lifesaver officials.

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