Chris Schulz Published

Legislators Discuss Improvements To Rail-Trails

WVPB: Monongalia Rail-Trail Bridge

At the West Virginia Legislature’s third interim meetings of the year, lawmakers heard about efforts to improve the state’s rail-trail networks. Rail-trails refer to public, shared use paths built on a railway’s right of way, often after the railway has been abandoned and the track has been removed.

The Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Subcommittee met in Charleston Sunday evening.

Assistant Commissioner of Highways Rita Pauley gave an overview of the system, saying there were close to 70 rail-trails across the state. She also discussed legislative activity to expand the system.

“It all comes down to what would be safe to develop and what the railroads are willing to allow because it’s their property,” Pauley said.

Senate Bill 588 dealt with rail line liability and also proposed updating the West Virginia Rail Trails Program with a “rail with trail” system that would develop public trails next to active rail lines.

Representatives from railroad companies CSX and Norfolk Southern were opposed to the idea, telling the subcommittee that inviting the public so close to active trains was inviting injury and possibly death.

“To impose the burden of people using a non motorized right of way next to an active rail line is a really tough burden and a tough threshold for the railroads to accept,” said Pat McCune, an independent public affairs consultant for CSX Rail. “There’s too much risk even with a certain amount of indemnification.”

The bill had widespread support in both chambers, but failed to pass before the end of the legislation’s regular session.