The paralleling of existing rail lines in excess right-of-way (R/W) and/or the re-use of corridors first used by railroad companies has long been a method for acquiring linear corridors for other transportation uses. The practice of re-using rail alignments is a logical one given that railroads steered development patterns in the United States prior to the highway era and the corridors that served the railroads also effectively serve existing population centers. The long period of railroad consolidation since the end of World War II resulted in the abandonment and loss of many rail corridors that would now have been extremely valuable for transportation development. Preserving former rail corridors is beneficial to transportation planners at the local and state level, as they can be employed for new transportation uses or multiuse recreational trails.
This paper discusses the findings of a multifaceted research project that examined issues associated with acquisition, preservation, and re-use of abandoned rail corridors in Texas. The paper summarizes the legal and policy review that analyzed Texas, Federal, and other state abandonment policies to determine what, if any, changes would be necessary for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to take advantage of future opportunities to acquire and preserve these corridors. The paper also reviews results that identified and documented past Texas rail abandonments and identification of potential uses for existing/prospective abandoned corridors. The paper concludes with an overview of the findings of this study which noted that as the state’s population continues to grow, preserving all potential transportation corridors for rail or alternative uses will grow in importance.