January 14, 2014

APA Urges Supreme Court to Protect Federal Rights-of-Way

CHICAGO — The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today in Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States. The American Planning Association (APA) in conjunction with a group of state and local government organizations is urging the court to affirm the federal government's ownership of rail rights-of-way as pursuant to the 1875 General Railroad Right-of-Way Act.

Under the act, when railroad service ends, the rights-of-way revert to the federal government. Many of the former rail rights-of-way have been converted into public trails, utilizing these existing continuous lines of travel.

The petitioner in the case is arguing that the federal government did not maintain ownership of the rail rights-of-way after the surrounding land was patented into private ownership and may not preserve the corridor for recreational or other non-railroad use. The district court and federal appeals court both held that the federal government had maintained ownership.  

APA's amicus brief was submitted in support of the respondent. If the court were to side with the petitioner, transportation corridors would be eliminated and the valuable public asset represented by the continuous path destroyed.  Attempting to reassemble the already existing continuous paths of travel would be difficult and potentially cost-prohibitive.

"We are urging the court to find for the respondent. Allowing the corridor to be chopped up would destroy a valuable public resource," said Paul Farmer, FAICP, CEO of the American Planning Association.

The American Planning Association joined the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), National League of Cities (NLC), the National Association of Counties (NACo), the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM), and the International Municipal Lawyers Association (IMLA). The brief was written by the State & Local Legal Center and the Law Offices of Charles H. Montange.

The American Planning Association is an independent, not-for-profit educational organization that provides leadership in the development of vital communities. APA and its professional institute, the American Institute of Certified Planners, are dedicated to advancing the art, science and profession of good planning — physical, economic, and social — so as to create communities that offer better choices for where and how people work and live. APA has offices in Washington, D.C., and Chicago, with almost 40,000 members worldwide in nearly 100 countries.


Roberta Rewers, APA Public Affairs; 312-786-6395; rrewers@planning.org