Eminent Domain & Land Use

Rails to Trails FAQs

What is a rail-trail conversion?

Rail-trail conversions occur when an abandoned railroad corridor is converted into a public recreational park or trail.

How do rail-trail conversions affect landowners?

The federal government may have initially seized land from individuals, businesses and farms to encourage expansion of the railroad system. At that time these landowners were not eligible to receive compensation for their property due to federal laws. However, when the land formerly used for railroads started to be repurposed, the federal courts ruled the government must pay any landowners whose property was taken.

How do I know if my property could be affected by a rail-trail conversion?

The federal government will not directly notify you about a rail-trail conversion that may affect your property. The railroad must publish notice of its abandonment of the line in a local newspaper and announce it in the Federal Register. However, most landowners learn about these developments only through local news reports or correspondence from an attorney.

How is this a “taking” of my property?

According to state law, once a railroad abandons using its right-of-way for railroad purposes, the right-of-way disappears. This leaves the property owner with an unencumbered possession. But because the National Trails System Act overrides state law, the railroad is allowed to sell the right-of-way to the federal government for use as a public park instead.

When the National Trails System Act went into effect in 1968 there was no provision allowing landowners to be compensated for property taken from them. In the 1980s, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that while the federal government has the right to seize landowners’ property for a public purpose, landowners must be compensated for the taking.

Do I have to file a lawsuit?

Yes. When the federal government seizes your property, it does not have to compensate you unless you file a claim for compensation and prove your property was taken. If the federal government is found to be responsible for the taking, attorneys will work with you and the court to determine the amount of money you are owed.

What if I don’t make a claim for compensation?

If you do not make a claim for compensation, you will not be compensated for the land taken from you.

What if I don’t know how the original railroad obtained the right-of-way?

Your attorney must gather the documents needed to prove the government is responsible for taking your property, including historical records, maps, deeds and other title records.

Will this lawsuit hurt or affect the creation of the public park or trail?

No, the lawsuit will not affect whether a trail is built. The lawsuit is not against the railroad or the trail group. It is only against the federal government for taking your property and converting it to a public park or trail. The funds for your compensation will come from the Judgment Fund at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

What is “just compensation” for the taking of my property?

Just compensation is the amount of money landowners are entitled to when their land is taken by the federal government. It includes three things:

  • Value of the land before and after the taking. This is determined by an expert appraiser.
  • Interest, which begins accruing on the date of the taking and continues accruing until payment is made.
  • Attorney fees and expenses, which are reimbursed to landowners.

Why should I choose Lewis Rice’s Federal Takings & Rails to Trails Attorneys?

  • Lewis Rice has more than a century of service representing a variety of clients, including those whose property has been taken by the federal government.
  • Our experienced attorneys have decades of combined experience.
  • We have successfully helped thousands of landowners secure the compensation they are owed.
  • While based in St. Louis, we represent clients across the country.
  • Your case will get the individualized attention it deserves. We are always available to you and will provide regular updates.
  • Our attorneys have spent their careers pioneering this area of the law. We have assisted landowners in many of the leading cases that are frequently cited by courts and attorneys.
  • Our clients are paid larger amounts in a timelier manner than landowners represented by other attorneys. We go to every length to ensure you get the compensation you deserve.

Do I have to travel to Lewis Rice’s St. Louis office or Washington D.C. for court proceedings?

You will not have to leave your jurisdiction. We travel to represent you in a federal court in your state.

What does it cost to retain Lewis Rice’s Federal Takings & Rails to Trails attorneys?

We work through a contingency fee arrangement, which means you don’t pay attorney fees unless and until we win your case.

Can Lewis Rice’s attorneys help with any federal takings issue?

Contact us to find out how we can help you receive fair compensation for any land taken from you by the federal government.