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Saluda Grade Rail Trail - Case Details



A coalition of three nonprofit groups are spearheading the Saluda Grade Trail plans: Conserving CarolinaPAL: Paly, Advocate, Live Well, and Upstate Forever. These plans include purchasing the Saluda Grade railroad corridor and converting it into a 31-mile rail trail. The trail would begin in Inman, South Carolina (north of Spartanburg) and continue through Campobello, Landrum, Tryon, and Saluda before entering North Carolina and reaching Zirconia (south of Hendersonville). This trail would span 16 miles in South Carolina and 15 miles in North Carolina.

Conserving Carolina reports that The Saluda Grade Trail would be created through the federal railbanking program. The Surface Transportation Board ("STB") is a federal agency that oversees railroads.  When railroads under federal jurisdiction express interest to abandon their lines, a trails group may step in to make an offer to purchase the land and convert the railroad corridor to a rail-trail. The process of converting inactive railroad corridors to recreational trails and keeping the corridor intact for future rail use is called “railbanking”.





The Trails Act is a federal program that permits the conversion of railroad lines into nature and hiking trails. In this instance, the trail would comprise the current Saluda Grade rail corridor. 

If the STB permits a trail conversion, which we expect to occur in the near term, then this would potentially result in the triggering of a claim for money damages in your favor against the United States government. The claim results from the blocking of reversionary property rights in the railroad corridor. This taking would require the United States to pay you just compensation under the Constitution.  It is important to note that your claim would only be against the federal government and is NOT adverse to the Saluda Grade Trail or an local entity sponsoring the trail.

The claim would be based on North Carolina and South Carolina property law.  An owner of land that abuts a public right of way (in this case a former railroad corridor) is presumed to own a portion of the land within the right of way, such that when the railroad was ever abandoned the land would revert to their ownership.  This is what should occur with respect to the land that is slated to become the future rail trail.  However, as a result of the Trails Act, the federal government can authorize the inactive railroad to be converted to a recreational trail, thereby blocking a landowners right to regain the property within the railroad corridor, which would result in a taking of land.

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