Between February and April 2023, the Shenandoah Rail Trail Exploratory Partnership held a series of ten community meetings to inform and engage the public about the Shenandoah Rail Trail. The proposed trail would convert an unused rail corridor between Broadway and Front Royal into a 48.5-mile multi-use trail running through nine towns, three counties, and near numerous schools, businesses and cultural resources.
The meetings included an opportunity for public input and questions. Below is a list of frequently asked questions. We have done our best to accurately answer the questions but there remain many unknowns, particularly pertaining to the operation and ownership of the trail. We will continue to update the responses as decisions are made and information becomes available.
Frequently Asked Questions
Typical new businesses in trail communities most likely include food and beverage establishments, lodging, outdoor equipment rental outlets, bike services and repairs, and retail outlets offering trail supplies such as water, soft drinks, and snacks. By 2030, an estimated 319 new jobs will be created by new regional spending associated with the trail.
Will businesses or other private entities be able to display promotional or directional signage on the trail?
There could be lots of opportunities to allow wayfinding signage along the corridor to indicate nearby locations for lodging and food, for example
The trail is a plus for local taxpayers. An economic impact analysis estimates that trail visitors, spending money at local businesses, will inject $32 million per year into the local economy, and the expanded economy in the region is projected to generate higher tax revenue each year for state and local governments: $1.7 million for counties and $0.2 million for towns annually.
What were the previous attempts to restore rail?
Over the past 30+ years, as rail freight tonnage along this corridor declined, localities along the corridor have explored multiple efforts to restore rail service, including multi-million dollar offers to subsidize capital and operational rail costs, efforts to recruit new industrial rail users, and contracting with a short-line or tourist train. None were found to be economically viable.
How do we assure that tourism doesn’t displace agriculture in the county?
A strong tourism economy provides an opportunity to enhance, not displace, agriculture. Combining tourism and agriculture industries provide a number of financial, educational, and social benefits to tourists, producers, and communities. Visitors to the trail create new potential revenue streams and local markets for agricultural producers leading to a diversification of income as well as potential growth.
There are also opportunities to educate the public about agriculture and build a new constituency of supporters who realize the importance of preserving our region’s agricultural heritage.
How will the trail impact development in the surrounding towns and counties?
Along the corridor and in our towns, we are seeing investments to restore many of the historic homes and businesses which have been empty and in disrepair for years.
How will the trail benefit the community?
The Shenandoah Rail Trail provides a unique opportunity to promote compatible economic development that capitalizes on unique resources of the valley and provides widespread and lasting benefits for the local economy, public health and quality of life.
A Shenandoah Rail Trail will reconnect the towns and communities along the corridor. It will connect kids to schools, employees to work, customers to shops, diners to restaurants and community members to parks, rivers and historic sites. The trail will be a tremendous boost for our downtowns and local businesses. Visitors to the trail will provide economic opportunities for new entrepreneurship. Community members will enjoy thriving local businesses in the towns. And the addition of the Shenandoah Rail Trail to the already enticing local amenities, will attract companies that seek to locate in a place that offers a high quality of life to the folks they employ. This means the potential for new job opportunities across many economic sectors.
How will increasing trail traffic impact moving ag machinery on the roads?
The objective of the trail is to provide a safe alternative for cycling and walking on narrow rural roads with sufficient parking at trailheads to allow easy access.
The Partnership anticipates that the trail will be supported by a combination of federal/state/local and private monies.
What are the costs of acquisition, development?
VDOT has developed a range of estimates for acquisition, design and construction of the entire 49-mile trail from $76.5 million on the low end to $153 million on the high end.
What are the benefits of the trail generating $32 million a year?
The economic development projection is based on NEW spending from increased sales of retailers, restaurants, hotels, motels, and other businesses located in the three county region.
Evidence from studies of hundreds of trails, drawn from local sheriff data, find that trails are safe and do not pose a risk of increased crime to adjacent neighbors or to users of a trail. Further, it has been shown that the trail activity often results in a decrease in any existing problems that might be occurring along an unused corridor.
Will there be any spots along the trail that will allow the public access to private property?
No. The trail will not be designed to allow the public access to private property. If you are an adjacent landowner, please don’t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can meet to discuss your specific property concern.
What kind of barriers will be included along the corridor to provide a buffer between an ag operation and an active trail?
Fences, hedges, cattle guards, gates and other barriers may be used to separate the trail from agricultural land.
It is likely some of the existing fence will be impacted by construction and replacing any damaged fencing is included in the cost estimate. Long-term maintenance of the fence will still be the responsibility of the trail owner, the same as it has been with the railroad.
Virginia has some of the strongest liability protections for landowners with property adjacent to land used for recreational activity, such as the trail. For more information, see “Protecting Adjacent Landowners Against Trespassing and Legal Liabilities.”
No. Funds to support VDOT road building and funds to support VDOT trail development come from separate funding sources that don’t compete with each other.
In the case of the Shenandoah Rail Trail, so far, VDOT support has come at the request of the General Assembly and the Commonwealth Transportation Board and has been supported by Virginia trails funding, not drawn from VDOT’s transportation budget.
The Shenandoah Rail Trail Partnership envisions a trail developed within the existing ROW, which we understand is approximately 60 feet in most places.
Preliminary evaluations show that instances where additional ROW might be needed for trailhead improvements are within the surrounding town or county right-of-way, not on private property.
If my property currently has an easement over the rail for agricultural purposes, will it remain?
Yes. The trail owner will work with agricultural property owners to maintain or even enhance ease of access for their farming operations.
What happens at road crossings? What if I have to cross the trail for my home or business will my access be limited? I farm both sides of the corridor so move livestock and equipment back and forth. How will the trail impact my ability to do that? Can cows cross the trail?
Roadway crossings will be improved so trail users can safely cross.
Regarding crossing the trail for other uses, such as access to your house or ag operation, during the trail design phase, any existing crossings across the corridor will be evaluated and landowners contacted, as needed, to ensure existing uses can be safely maintained. Again, we anticipate that the ease of access may actually improve with the conversion to the trail. Active livestock crossings may require special gates.
How will emergency access to the trail be assured and on whose property?
There are best practices for emergency access from other trails that will be incorporated into the trail design. It is expected that emergency access will be granted from public roads and the existing trail ROW.
Is it true that in instances where VDOT is required to maintain a bridge on a road near a private property, a new VDOT right-of-way is created? Can that new access eventually lead to increased public access across private land?
In instances where VDOT is working on a bridge along a public roadway, VDOT does maintain a VDOT right-of-way surrounding the bridge that would be accessible to the public unless signed otherwise.
However, in the case of the Shenandoah Rail Corridor, the current owner, Norfolk Southern owns the bridges, generally, not the property surrounding or under the bridges. Norfolk Southern does own an easement on the aerial rights for the bridge but the property remains privately owned.
In the case of the sale of the rail corridor, the existing easement would transfer and any need to secure additional right-of-way surrounding the bridges would be negotiated on a case-by-case basis that would not provide public access.
I live along the corridor, what should I expect?
Expect a lot of open communication, from the Friends of the Shenandoah Rail Trail, Shenandoah Rail Trail Partnership, the trail owner and any third parties involved in design and construction. Many landowners find a trail is a great neighbor, and we’re committed to ensuring the Shenandoah Rail Trail is no different!
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