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Conserve, steward, and advocate for the unique rural landscape of the Eastern Shore.

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What is railbanking?

What is Railbanking?

The Eastern Shore is lucky when it comes to rail-trail development thanks to a tool called “railbanking.” Allowed under Federal Law (through the National Trail System Act), railbanking is a voluntary agreement made between a railroad company and a trail sponsor regarding the use of an inactive rail corridor. It is meant to preserve rail line corridors under the jurisdiction of the US Surface Transportation Board that have become inactive or out-of-service so that one day they can become active again for rail service. In the meantime, the line can become a trail for active transportation or recreation.

Once extensive, rail corridors on the Eastern Shore served the region by moving people, produce, and other commodities. Some of these railroad lines were completely abandoned and sold to private landowners, but others remain intact even if they have been out-of-service for decades as industries have switched to trucks instead of freight. Railbanking of some of the remaining lines has resulted in some great trails such as the Gilchrest Rail Trail in Chestertown, Easton’s extensive and still growing rail trail network, Cambridge’s trail at Cannery Park, and Ridgely’s trail along West Railroad Street. Even though the Eastern Shore has far fewer trails than other parts of Maryland, the region has benefited heavily from railbanking. These trails make up a majority of our trails outside of parks and are each worth a stroll.

Not all rail corridors can become trails in this way. In the many cases where lines were out-of-service for too longthe property rights reverted back or were sold to nearby property owners, and railbanking can no longer apply. Lines from Easton to Oxford, Chestertown to Rock Hall, Queen Anne to Queenstown, and Vienna to Salisbury became abandoned in this way and are no longer considered to be regulated railroad corridors.

Railbanking is a timely process, usually requiring more than a year to complete. On top of that, developing the railbanked lines into a trail can take years as they require funding for concept designs, engineering, and construction. But railbanking has been and will continue to be a vital tool for the Eastern Shore to preserve these lines and to build a connected trail network. The Oxford Line alone offers 44.6 miles of trail opportunities and the entire stretch is rail-banked, including 13.3 miles in Delaware and 31.3 miles in Maryland. Rail-banked lines also connect Denton to Queen Anne, and will soon connect Cambridge to Linkwood, and Hurlock to Preston—each of these offering ample opportunities for communities to better connect by bike and by foot.

For more information on railbanking, visit Rails to Trails Conservancy’s website: https://www.railstotrails.org/trail-building-toolbox/railbanking/

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