Eminent Domain & Land Use

Rail-Trail Conversions

What is a Rail-Trail Conversion? 

  • A rail-trail conversion is an abandoned railroad corridor that is converted into a public recreational trail
  • Most railroads only hold an easement to the railroad corridor
  • Under state law, when the railroad abandons that easement, the easement is extinguished, and adjacent landowners own the land free and clear of any easements
  • A “rail-trail” conversion would not be possible under state law

Rail-Trail Conversions Are Constitutional Because of the Federal Trails Act

  • The federal Trails Act makes a rail-trail conversion possible
  • Under federal law, a trail user is able to acquire the abandoned railroad corridor to construct a public linear park 
  • The federal law preempts state law and causes a taking of a landowner’s state-law reversionary property rights
  • This taking is constitutional, but under the Fifth Amendment, landowners have a right to seek just compensation for the taking

Landowners Must File a Claim to Be Paid Just Compensation

  • This is a form of eminent domain called inverse condemnation (taking occurs and then claim must be made to be paid)
  • Claim is filed against the federal government in the United States Court of Federal Claims
  • Landowners must prove the government is liable for a taking
  • If the government is liable, the parties (or the Court) will determine the amount of just compensation the landowner is owed

Just Compensation Consists of Three Components

  • Land Value
    • Expert appraiser determines the value of the taking
    • Before and after analysis
  • Interest
    • Interest begins accruing on the date of the taking and will continue to accrue until payment is made
  • Attorneys Fees and Expenses
    • Landowners shall be reimbursed their attorney fees and expenses (“statutory fee” under the Uniform Relocation and Assistance Act)

Making a Claim for Compensation Does Not Affect Your Property

  • Taking automatically occurs
  • Landowner’s only choice is whether to seek compensation for that taking
  • If you do not file a claim for compensation, you will not be paid

Why Lewis Rice?

  • National Practice
    • While based in St. Louis, Lewis Rice regularly represents clients across the country
    • Impressive track record of serving clients for more than a century
  • Experienced Litigators 
    • Lindsay and Meghan have almost 25 years of combined experience successfully helping thousands of landowners in rails-to-trails cases across the country
    • “Boots on the ground” in every way
  • Devoted to the Trails Act Practice
    • Helped to create the law governing this practice
    • Frequently write articles and give presentations about federal takings issues
  • Dedication to Clients
    • Model is simple: provide each and every landowner excellent representation
    • Availability is key: you can reach us at anytime, and we will routinely keep you updated of any new developments in your case