The formation of a network of trails requires that several trails exist and intersect in various places, allowing people to move from one trail to another—across longer distances and connecting important places. Some of the most valuable trails in any given place are ones that offer this type of connectivity. It is these longer, connectivity-focused trails that are especially difficult to organize, but why might that be?
One of the biggest obstacles is the need come to an agreement with a landowner to formalize public access along their land, so that a trail can be constructed. In order to form a route of any length, this would require reaching agreements with dozens, potentially even hundreds, of individual landowners. Such a process is expensive, time-consuming, and extremely difficult to accomplish. After all, if only one landowner refuses to participate, it’s possible the entire route could be denied from ever existing.
Thus, there are some easier ways to try and form long routes throughout an area, the clearest example of this is trying to build trails along parcels of land which is already very long and designed to stretch across an area. There tend to be four examples of this type of land: roadways, railways, utility corridors (such as transmission lines), and rivers.
Each of these provide unique benefits and challenges for making a trail through an area, though all of them are simpler than the alternative.
What is rail-with-trail?
Rail trails are often made when an abandoned rail line is converted into a multimodal (pedestrian and bicycle) facility. These offer excellent opportunities to build trails throughout an area for connectivity purposes because the railroad was built for the same exact purpose: connecting many places with a single route. Due to the many railroads which were installed during the industrial revolution and subsequently abandoned, New Hampshire has many rail trails throughout the state which makes for a rich network of recreational trails for Granite Staters and tourists to freely enjoy.
In some places, especially in more urban areas, many of these railroads are still active, eliminating the possibility for a conversion from rail to trail. Still, there are ways to integrate trails into these facilities: rail-with trail.
When railroads were originally built, the right-of-way for the rail line often was put together with additional room on either side of the rails. This space could have been for additional rails which were either never built or have since been removed, service roads which run beside rail lines, or other reasons to maintain a buffer of space alongside the rail. With the consent of the railroad, and following proper engineering principles to separate people from train traffic, this space can offer an exceptional opportunity to maximize the use of these rail corridors by installing rail-with-trail. This type of facility, when shared-use path is constructed beside an active rail road, is known as rail-with-trail.
How would rail-with-trail benefit Manchester and the region?
Nearly every mile of the trails proposed by Manchester Moves rely on the use of routes cut through the city and the region to form rail corridors, this includes many of the existing trails we have come to love in our city, such as the Piscataquog Trail or the Rockingham Trail.
Many of the trail routes which go through Manchester have been built upon abandoned rail lines, such as the two mentioned above. These routes generally come to an abrupt end though, as the abandoned rail lines which once formed the railroad would merge with other lines, some of which are still active today.
On the photo below, click and drag the slider left and right to compare Manchester without rail-with-trail (on the left ) to a Manchester that is afforded rail-with-trail:
As a result, Manchester’s periphery has been able to construct trails to benefit their neighborhoods by completing the conversion from abandoned rails to trails, but the completion of a network which would truly connect all parts of Manchester, has not yet been realized.
If an agreement could be reached with Manchester’s active railroad owners to incorporate rail-with-trail into the existing rail corridors, it would be finally possible to unite the many fragmented trails across Manchester; create a robust network of trails for alternative transportation and recreational use; and promote a safer, healthier, and more prosperous community.
Does rail-with-trail really work?
Sometimes, people unfamiliar with rail-with-trail worry that having a trail nearby a railroad could be dangerous. In reality, they form exceptionally safe multimodal (pedestrian and bicycle) facilities, even safer than the sidewalks and crosswalks so many of use everyday.
When people use a rail-with-trail, they do so with safety and the data indicates it is indeed a very safe type of multimodal infrastructure. In reality, the notion of using a rail-with-trail is in many ways safer than using a standard sidewalk, which is typically adjacent to fast-moving cars, guided by flawed humans of highly-varying abilities and attention, travelling at various speeds, unrestricted by rails, and with typically no separation from pedestrians. Rail-with-trail on the other hand, uses engineering principles and separation to ensure that users are away from any trains, which still are bound to movement on rails. Rail-with-trail users do not wander mindlessly onto tracks while they use the facility, much like they don’t wonder into traffic when they use sidewalks.
To learn more about rail-with-trail, consider watching a recent webinar by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC).
Read America's Rails-with-Trails Report
Rails-with-trails are safe, common, and increasing in number. These are the standout findings of America’s Rails-with-Trail Report, a defining new study on the development of multi-use trails alongside active freight, passenger and tourist rail lines. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) produced this report to provide updated information on national rail-with-trail trends.