Right of Way

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Right of Way

Postby BoilerBob » Thu Apr 24, 2014 8:38 pm

This has been on my mind for quite a while. How did railroads obtain the right of way? Did the states grant it or was there a federal regulation to give right of way to them?
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Re: Right of Way

Postby DutchRailnut » Fri Apr 25, 2014 3:42 am

You wondered about it yet did not google it ??
http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-railr ... of-way.htm
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Re: Right of Way

Postby Engineer Spike » Fri May 02, 2014 10:21 am

This is interesting. I live along the Delaware and Hudson. They are listed as the adjoining land owner on my deed. One day I got a letter from AT&T, which has a telephone line on the ROW. The letter said that I was entitled to so much money per foot of property, which borders the railroad.

I was afraid of a conflict of interest, so I called the real estate department. The man said that D&H owns its ROW, as I knew from my deed. Some railroads only hold an easement. Some times the railroad allowed the telephone company to place telephone lines, but they did not own the land. The actual owner was not consulted about the laying of the phone line.

AT&T's position was to pay off all property owners who abutted a rail ROW, with a telephone line, rather than research the title to every one.
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Re: Right of Way

Postby RussNelson » Fri May 02, 2014 10:26 pm

Title searches are NOT cheap, particularly when you get back into the handwritten deeds. There's a reason why you buy title insurance. They know how to do the research, and when to give up, cut their losses, and fall back on their insurance. AT&T could do that, but they have clearly already done the math and decided it would be cheaper to buy everybody off.
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Re: Right of Way

Postby BR&P » Sat May 03, 2014 2:35 pm

Like the song says - Go on, take the money and run!
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Re: Right of Way

Postby edbear » Wed May 07, 2014 6:11 pm

I managed the Boston & Maine property records, 1973-85. Railroads in the New England area do not have easements, except to cross public property like streets. Railroads were granted eminent domain powers to construct their lines. There were two methods of compensation. Negotiation with the owner and outright purchase or seize the property and pay a settlement. If the original owner challenges the settlement it goes to court and a court sets the compensation. Upon abandonment the property remains with the railroad unless the original purchase specified it would be returned to "heirs, assigns, etc." which is quite rare. You can't take it by adverse possession because the railroad can eminent domain you off the property, even if the line is abandoned the terms of the original State authorization remain. The account someone gave of rights-of-way being Federal easements probably applies to land grant railroads. And they weren't easements either. The expectation was the much of the grant would eventually be sold to newcomers to populate the wilderness. Find a copy of Men, Cities and Transportation by Kirkland and Steelways of New England by Harlow and read up on right of way acquisition.
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Re: Right of Way

Postby Ken W2KB » Mon May 26, 2014 10:58 am

There are two other arrangements, less common for railroads than ownership in fee or by permanent easement. These are a lease of the land for a term of years, and the other a license to use the land. The latter would likely be used only for a very special, short duration need as licenses are generally revocable by the grantor at will.
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Re: Right of Way

Postby Ken W2KB » Mon May 26, 2014 11:15 am

edbear wrote:I managed the Boston & Maine property records, 1973-85. Railroads in the New England area do not have easements, except to cross public property like streets. Railroads were granted eminent domain powers to construct their lines. There were two methods of compensation. Negotiation with the owner and outright purchase or seize the property and pay a settlement. If the original owner challenges the settlement it goes to court and a court sets the compensation. Upon abandonment the property remains with the railroad unless the original purchase specified it would be returned to "heirs, assigns, etc." which is quite rare. You can't take it by adverse possession because the railroad can eminent domain you off the property, even if the line is abandoned the terms of the original State authorization remain. The account someone gave of rights-of-way being Federal easements probably applies to land grant railroads. And they weren't easements either. The expectation was the much of the grant would eventually be sold to newcomers to populate the wilderness. Find a copy of Men, Cities and Transportation by Kirkland and Steelways of New England by Harlow and read up on right of way acquisition.


Good description. My employer, an electric and gas utility in NJ, has an extensive network of rights of way for its electric transmission business. All 138kV through 500kV is on private rights of way. Only a small percentage is owned in fee, these generally were acquired by the electric trolley business that was the basis for the electric utility business. The majority is by easement, the process for which is very similar to what you described. When negotiations with individual property owners fail, the company has state eminent domain power (unlike for natural gas pipelines, there is no federal eminent domain authority for electric transmission), but cannot take the land until the acquisition and compensation is approved by NJ public utility commission and after conclusion of appeals, if any, to the state courts. So there is a strong incentive to avoid use of eminent domain and the resultant delays, which could be for a year or several. The lower voltages, 69kV and below, are constructed on poles along roads and streets so don't require any private right of way.
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