A Missouri-based law firm specializing in rail-trail litigation represents more than 100 landowners whose property rights will be affected by the Shenandoah Rail Trail project.
Stewart, Wald and McCulley said in a statement that they plan to take legal action on behalf of landowners when the federal government approves the conversion of a 48.5-mile stretch of Broadway rail line. to Front Royal for the Shenandoah Rail Trail.
Attorney Michael J. Smith said when the lawsuit is filed, the company will seek monetary compensation for taking land in a case against the federal government.
The lawsuit is not against local entities building the trail and will not impede the trail’s progress, Smith said.
“What we do has absolutely no impact on the track,” he said.
On June 1, the Virginia General Assembly approved the Commonwealth Budget, which included funding for the purchase of an idle Norfolk Southern Railroad between Broadway and Front Royal. The trail has received approval from the seven incorporated cities it passes through, as well as Rockingham, Shenandoah, and Warren counties.
Before the trail can be built, Smith said, the US Surface Transportation Board must give approval to convert the rail line to a trail. Following that request, council would approve the project under the Trails Act and issue a notice for interim use of the trail, he said.
The Trails Act, Smith said, allows for the conversion of abandoned rail corridors into nature and hiking trails. The practice, known as railbanking, prevents property from reverting to neighboring landowners. It grants the trail sponsor a new easement, effectively blocking the landowner’s rights to reclaim property in the corridor, Smith said.
“We do not seek or anticipate seeking relief against any entity other than the federal government,” Smith said in a statement. “We believe there are over 1,000 parcels of land that will be affected by the rail trail conversion.”
A representative from Stewart, Wald and McCulley will return to the area in late August to arrange further meetings with landowners. Interested landowners can contact the law firm at www.swm.legal for details of meeting times.