Why Save Rail Trails

North Carolina’s 5,200-mile rail system has shrunk to 3,200 miles and continues to lose corridors each year. Why are our rail corridors disappearing?  Under present state laws and policy, adjacent property owners can claim the majority of surplus corridors, thus denying preservation and further public use.  A comprehensive state policy is needed to reassert public interest in all corridors for transportation and many other public purposes.  Surviving rail corridors beg for your attention.  Let yourself imagine how these rail corridors can serve for another 100 years. Support the North Carolina Rail-Trails move to protect public interest in these valuable assets.


Railroad corridors are long-established buffers between commercial, industrial and residential properties. Allowing a corridor to be broken up and disappear wastes a valuable community asset. Consider the consequences and the lost options. Greenways protect these buffers while enhancing their community value. Foot paths, bikeways, historic preservation, nature study and beautification are integrated with many corridor preservation plans.


Our cities and towns grew up around railroads. A rail corridor is an integral part of most communities. At a minimum, the corridor is an important surface drainage feature. Looking ahead, rail corridors provide valuable utility lanes for water, sewers, power, gas and communications. Obtaining new rights-of-way for these services outweigh the cost of corridor preservation. Utility leases generate significant public income in some locations.


Will your community or region ever need rail service again? It is an important option that only can be exercised through corridor preservation. And for the present, pedestrian paths and bikeways can reduce traffic congestion, help conserve energy and contribute to community livability. Utilizing corridors for alternate transportation options is wise community planning.


Take a walk along your rail corridors. See how most of the community’s historically significant structures are in sight? Can you save the old depot for community activities? Are those old houses and commercial buildings worth protection? Rail corridor preservation often launches adjacent projects that reverse blight, improve property values and enhance community pride. Putting history on display can be used for economic advantage.


Old rail corridors make wonderful linear parks. They are the most cost-effective way to provide safe, off-road hiking, bicycling, skating and saddle riding facilities for a community or region. Rail-trails provide high-use, low-maintenance facilities that are popular with all ages and suited to all physical capabilities. These linear parks are popular community amenities that often enhance neighboring property values. Joe Miller, a serious hiker and biker who writes for Get Going NC.com, presents some interesting observations of rail-trails in North Carolina and how they compare to some elsewhere in a very readable February 10, 2012 article.


Rail corridors have been in place and relatively undisturbed for more than a century. They provide scarce natural habitat and often nurture endangered plant and wildlife species, even in urban settings. A linear park can be a living lab for nature study and education.


A regional rail-trail can bring tourism to your town. Off-road hiking, bicycling and saddle touring are growth industries that are limited only by available open spaces. Corridor trails satisfy the urge to get out and roam while engaging in healthy recreation. Cross-country trails provide opportunities for food service, lodging, rental and other businesses to remote towns and villages. Established trails are now generating hundreds of millions in economic activity.

Want to help? Start by becoming a member of NC Rail-Trails!