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Bm's Along Railroads


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In my sorting and collecting of information for the upcoming contest, I have noticed a large portion of my hunting is going to be near railroads.


Although some of the rails are still active to my south, the primary area I am going to be in is rail beds where the tracks have been removed, leaving a path. The last rail activity in these places must have been in the 40's or 50's.


My main question is, who owns these now? Are the rail-beds Public, government, or possibly Private property? In my hunting, I'll be using my own judgement for particular areas, but I am curious as to what the status is for these areas.

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... My main question is, who owns these now? Are the rail-beds Public, government, or possibly Private property? ...


All of the above.


There are many rail lines that have been abandoned and the tracks removed that remain owned by the rail lines. Sometimes the right-of-way is donated to a park or trail concervancy. It can also be purchased by adjacent land owners, or the local city or county government. I worked on a boundary job for a local county a few years back that involved a six-mile stretch of abandoned railroad right-of-way. Within that six miles, the right-of-way had been divided, and redivided into no less than 44 different parcels - some owned publicly (for park purposes), some owned privately (by adjacent land owners), and some was still owned by the railroad that had abandoned the line in the 1930's.


- Kewaneh

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Go to your local tax assessors office. There you should find the information you need to determine ownership of a particular area. Maps of the area will have parcel numbers associated with individual tracts of land, with these numbers you can look up the owner of the property.


One thing to add, if the right of way was just that and not an ownership in fee. The property would have reverted back to the original owner. Here in Tennessee some of the railroad right of ways are just easements.

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Briefly, a railroad announces its intention to abandon its line by notifying the Surface Transporation Board. There is a time period when interested parties may petition that the line be purchased or converted to public use. If the parties can demonstrate their ability to assume the financial obligation of maintaining the trail and indemnifying the RR against claims arising from the use of its right of way, and actually do so within a reasonable time, then the right of way can become a public use trail. Otherwise the right of way reverts back to the adjoining property owners (if it was an easement) or can be sold by the RR (if they owned the land).


Some rights of way are purchased and reserved for future use, for instance with the intention to open a public transit system. Some rights of way also remain in use for things such as pipelines.


Even if the right of way hasn't legally reverted to the adjoining properties, the adjoiners may consider it their property and construct fences across the line or post it for no trespassing. It may be difficult to argue your legal rights while staring down the wrong end of a shotgun.


You don't have any right to be there unless it is a public use trail. Anything else, and you are trespassing.

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I have found all of these cases to be true (when I asked). I talked to one farmer whose land was adjacent to an old railbed and he said he thought the land reverted to the original owners but that nobody in the area was sure. They were all pretty much using it as if it was theirs though. In that case it had become an access road of sorts, so trespassing wasn't really an issue--everyone used it. In fact, he told me that I could drive for miles on it, as if it was something that everyone did. Quite a few old railbeds are either public rail trails or are "railbanked" for the future. Some of these seem to be considered semi-public lands and it is obvious that people use them often. A few go through populated areas and most likely are owned by the nearby landowners. If I can identify a likely owner, I stop and ask. If not, I have been known to take my chances. I live in a pretty friendly area so the chances of a "shoot first ask questions later" scenerio are slim.

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Several RR row's have ended up in the courts around here. Adjacent property owners have blocked them off from being used as state owned trails. One case went all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court and the property owner prevailed over the state in ownership.


Right now several other disputes are headed to the courts. Can't really blame the abutting owners, snowmobiles and ATV's screaming thru their backyards 24/7, people stopping to take a leak in the middle of the night in their yards, garbage and dust all the time.


Court decisions don't always follow any logic.


FILED MAY 27, 2005


Plaintiff-Appellee and Cross-Appellant,

v No. 124413



Defendant-Appellant and Cross-Appellee.




In 1873, the Quincy Mining Company conveyed an

interest in real property located in Houghton County,

Michigan, to the Mineral Range Railroad Company. The

parties labeled this interest a “right of way” in the

written deed. The precise nature of this right-of-way—

whether it was an easement or a fee estate, whether it was

limited to railroad purposes and, if so, what such a

limitation would mean—is the subject matter of this appeal.

Plaintiff, the Michigan Department of Natural

Resources, is the successor in interest of the Mineral

Range Railroad Company. It asserts that it owns a fee

simple interest and is therefore entitled to use the rightof-

way as a snowmobile and recreation trail. Defendant,

Carmody-Lahti Real Estate, Inc., is the successor in

interest of the Quincy Mining Company and maintains that

plaintiff’s predecessor in interest enjoyed only an

easement, which it abandoned before purporting to convey it

to plaintiff.

We conclude that the Court of Appeals correctly

determined that the 1873 deed conveyed an easement rather

than a fee simple. However, we conclude that the panel

erred in holding that the easement was neither limited to a

specific purpose nor abandoned by plaintiff’s predecessor

in interest. Properly construed, the instrument conveyed

an easement for railroad purposes only. Thus, when

plaintiff’s predecessor in interest unambiguously

manifested its intent to relinquish any use of the rightof-

way for railroad purposes and took action consistent

with that intent, the easement was abandoned. Defendant,

as successor in interest to the original grantor, now has

an unencumbered fee simple interest in the land formerly

subject to the easement.

We therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of

Appeals and remand to the circuit court for entry of

summary disposition in defendant’s favor.

Edited by Z15
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