United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania, C.A. No. 05-191 Erie, February 25, 2010.
The District Court granted summary judgment for the US against plaintiffs who own land that abuts or is traversed by a recreational trail in Elk and Cameron Counties, PA, who claim that by virtue of the operation of the National Trails System Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1241 et seq., they have been deprived of reversionary property interests in various portions of the trail without just compensation. The trail in question was being created by “railbanking” the corridor in which a railroad (A&E) discontinued service. Based on the analysis laid down by the US Supreme Court in Preseault v. United States, 494 U.S. 1 (1990) (“Presault I”), the court here held (1) there was no abandonment of the right of way under Pennsylvania state law based on the actions actually taken by the railroad, rather than actions they might have taken, because the railroad in fact reserved the right to future rail use and the Railbanking Agreement requires the trail sponsor to retain bridges, roadbeds, and other structures necessary for rail service to resume in the future; and (2) under PA law railbanking and interim trail use do not exceed the scope the easements that created the rail corridor in this case.
Relying heavily on the decision in Moody v. Allegheny Valley Land Trust, 976 A.2d 484 (Pa. 2008), the District Court analyzed the language in the several old conveyances creating the railroad’s easement. In all, the court held that Moody requires an interpretation of “railroad purposes” to include conversion to interim trail use for the preservation of future rail service; i.e., only a permanent cessation of rail service could lead to an understanding of railbanking as beyond the scope of the various conveyances.