Thomas A. Jones


As America becomes more populated, people escape urban pressures through bicycling, horseback riding and hiking. To this end, several old railroad beds have been converted to trails. In 1987, over ten million Americans used over 2,400 miles of such trails in thirty-one states.

In 1920, the nation's railway system reached its peak of 272,000 miles; however, the system has been losing track since that time. Approximately 141,000 miles are now in use, but it is predicted that another 3,000 miles will be abandoned every year through the end of this century. Many would like to see the abandoned railway lines converted to trails suitable for bicycling, horseback riding and hiking. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy seeks to stop the piecemeal sale of old railbeds that cover tens of thousands of miles in every state, and to develop the land for trails.

Opponents consist primarily of farmers and other adjacent landowners. They claim that the nation's railroads obtained easements for their lines and that the right of passage was granted only for the limited purpose of running their trains. They also claim that when the railroad line is abandoned, the easement disappears and the land reverts to the adjacent landowners.