Right-of-way (transportation)

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Right of way drawing of U.S. Route 25E for widening project, 1981 US 25E right-of-way engineering drawing.jpg
Right of way drawing of U.S. Route 25E for widening project, 1981
Right of way highway marker in Athens, Georgia Right-of-way marker in Athens, GA.jpg
Right of way highway marker in Athens, Georgia

A right-of-way (ROW, not to be confused with "right of way" without hyphens) is a right to make a way over a piece of land, [1] usually to and from another piece of land. A right of way is a type of easement granted or reserved over the land for transportation purposes, such as a highway, public footpath, rail transport, canal, as well as electrical transmission lines, oil and gas pipelines. [2] In the case of an easement, it may revert to its original owners if the facility is abandoned. This American English term is also used to denote the land itself.


A right of way is granted or reserved over the land for transportation purposes, usually for private access to private land and, historically for a highway, public footpath, rail transport, canal, as well as electrical transmission lines, oil and gas pipelines. [3] A right-of-way is reserved for the purposes of maintenance or expansion of existing services with the right-of-way.[ further explanation needed ]

Rail right-of-way

In the United States, railroad rights-of-way (ROW or R/O/W) are generally considered private property by the respective railroad owners and by applicable state laws. Most U.S. railroads employ their own police forces, who can arrest and prosecute trespassers found on their rights-of-way. Some railroad rights-of-way include recreational rail trails.

In Canada, railroad rights-of-way are regulated by federal law.

In the United Kingdom, railway companies received the right to resume land for a right-of-way by a private Act of Parliament.

Designations of railroad right of way

Right-of-way of the out-of-service Pacific Electric in Garden Grove, California from left middleground to right background Pacific Electric Right of Way , Garden Grove.jpg
Right-of-way of the out-of-service Pacific Electric in Garden Grove, California from left middleground to right background

The various designations of railroad right of way are as follows:

Rail rights-of-way uses other than rail transport

Julington-Durbin Peninsula Powerline Right of Way Julington-Durbin Peninsula Powerline Right of Way North.jpg
Julington-Durbin Peninsula Powerline Right of Way

Railroad rights-of-way need not be exclusively for railroad tracks and related equipment. Easements are frequently given to permit the laying of communication cables (such as optical fiber) or natural gas pipelines, or to run electric power transmission lines overhead, along a railroad.

See also

Related Research Articles

Railbanking is the act of preserving railroad rights-of-way for possible future use. Railbanking leaves the rail corridor, railbed, bridges or bridge right-of-way, and other infrastructure intact. This relieves the railroad's operator from the responsibility of maintenance, and from taxation. Existing rails may or may not be maintained intact on the railbed, depending on their condition or any planned interim use of the railbed. Often the rail corridor is put in custody of a state transportation agency, which then seeks a new operator for possible rehabilitation or reactivation. This helps ensure the possibility of future restored rail service when new economic conditions may warrant resuming operation.

In property law, title is an intangible construct representing a bundle of rights in (to) a piece of property in which a party may own either a legal interest or equitable interest. The rights in the bundle may be separated and held by different parties. It may also refer to a formal document, such as a deed, that serves as evidence of ownership. Conveyance of the document may be required in order to transfer ownership in the property to another person. Title is distinct from possession, a right that often accompanies ownership but is not necessarily sufficient to prove it. In many cases, possession and title may each be transferred independently of the other. For real property, land registration and recording provide public notice of ownership information.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Freedom to roam</span> Right of public access to land or bodies of water

The freedom to roam, or "everyman's right", is the general public's right to access certain public or privately owned land, lakes, and rivers for recreation and exercise. The right is sometimes called the right of public access to the wilderness or the "right to roam".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rights of way in England and Wales</span> Overview of the rights of way in England and Wales

In England and Wales, excluding the 12 Inner London boroughs and the City of London, the right of way is a legally protected right of the public to pass and re-pass on specific paths. The law in England and Wales differs from Scots law in that rights of way exist only where they are so designated, whereas in Scotland any route that meets certain conditions is defined as a right of way, and in addition, there is a general presumption of access to the countryside. Private rights of way or easements also exist.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rail trail</span> Railroad bed converted to a recreational trail

A rail trail is a shared-use path on railway right of way. Rail trails are typically constructed after a railway has been abandoned and the track has been removed, but may also share the right of way with active railways, light rail, or streetcars, or with disused track. As shared-use paths, rail trails are primarily for non-motorized traffic including pedestrians, bicycles, horseback riders, skaters, and cross-country skiers, although snowmobiles and ATVs may be allowed. The characteristics of abandoned railways—gentle grades, well-engineered rights of way and structures, and passage through historical areas—lend themselves to rail trails and account for their popularity. Many rail trails are long-distance trails, while some shorter rail trails are known as greenways or linear parks.

<i>Cuius est solum, eius est usque ad coelum et ad inferos</i> Principle of property law concerning air and subsurface rights

Cuius est solum, eius est usque ad coelum et ad inferos is a principle of property law, stating that property holders have rights not only to the plot of land itself, but also the air above and the ground below. The principle is often referred to in its abbreviated form as the ad coelum doctrine.

Railway companies can interact with and control others in many ways. These relationships can be complicated by bankruptcies.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Public trust doctrine</span>

The public trust doctrine is the principle that the sovereign holds in trust for public use some resources such as shoreline between the high and low tide lines, regardless of private property ownership.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Air rights</span> Type of real estate ownership right

Air rights are the property interest in the "space" above the earth's surface. Generally speaking, owning, or renting, land or a building includes the right to use and build in the space above the land without interference by others.

Mineral rights are property rights to exploit an area for the minerals it harbors. Mineral rights can be separate from property ownership. Mineral rights can refer to sedentary minerals that do not move below the Earth's surface or fluid minerals such as oil or natural gas. There are three major types of mineral property; unified estate, severed or split estate, and fractional ownership of minerals.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Big Inch</span> Petroleum pipelines from Texas to New Jersey

The Big Inch and Little Big Inch, collectively known as the Inch pipelines, are petroleum pipelines extending from Texas to New Jersey, built between 1942 and 1944 as emergency war measures in the U.S. Before World War II, petroleum products were transported from the oil fields of Texas to the north-eastern states by sea by oil tankers. After the United States entered the war on 1 January 1942, this vital link was attacked by German submarines in Operation Paukenschlag, threatening both the oil supplies to the north-east and its onward transshipment to Great Britain. The Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, championed the pipeline project as a way of transporting petroleum by the more-secure, interior route.

An easement is a nonpossessory right to use and/or enter onto the real property of another without possessing it. It is "best typified in the right of way which one landowner, A, may enjoy over the land of another, B". An easement is a property right and type of incorporeal property in itself at common law in most jurisdictions.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Transportation in New Jersey</span> Overview of the transportation in New Jersey

Transportation in New Jersey utilizes a combination of road, rail, air, and water modes. New Jersey is situated between Philadelphia and New York City, two major metropolitan centers of the Boston-Washington megalopolis, making it a regional corridor for transportation. As a result, New Jersey's freeways carry high volumes of interstate traffic and products. The main thoroughfare for long distance travel is the New Jersey Turnpike, the nation's fifth-busiest toll road. The Garden State Parkway connects the state's densely populated north to its southern shore region. New Jersey has the 4th smallest area of U.S. states, but its population density of 1,196 persons per sq. mi causes congestion to be a major issue for motorists.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Right of way</span> Legal right to pass through land belonging to another

Right of way is the legal right, established by grant from a landowner or long usage, to pass along a specific route through property belonging to another. A similar right of access also exists on land held by a government, lands that are typically called public land, state land, or Crown land. When one person owns a piece of land that is bordered on all sides by lands owned by others, an easement may exist or might be created so as to initiate a right of way through the bordering land.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">English land law</span> Law of real property in England and Wales

English land law is the law of real property in England and Wales. Because of its heavy historical and social significance, land is usually seen as the most important part of English property law. Ownership of land has its roots in the feudal system established by William the Conqueror after 1066, and with a gradually diminishing aristocratic presence, now sees a large number of owners playing in an active market for real estate.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Abandoned railway</span> Railway line which is no longer used

An abandoned railroad is a railway line which is no longer used for that purpose. Such lines may be disused railways, closed railways, former railway lines, or derelict railway lines. Some have had all their track and sleepers removed, and others have material remaining from their former usage.

Eaton vs. Boston, Concord & Montreal Railroad was a New Hampshire Supreme Court case decided in 1872 between farmer Ezra B. Eaton and the railroad company. Eaton asked the court to decide if B., C. & M.R.R. flooding of his farm was considered a "taking" under the Fifth Amendment's eminent domain clause, and if the railroad was responsible for compensation to the farmer for the taking. The court asked if "a release of all damages on account of the laying out or construction of a railroad through and over the land of the releasor, does not cover damages occasioned to the remaining land of the releasor by the construction of the railroad over the land of other persons". In 1851, after construction of the railroad, Eaton gave the defendants a warranty deed for the part of his farm where the railroad was located and signed the following release: "I, the subscriber, do hereby acknowledge that I have received of the Boston, Concord, & Montreal Railroad the sum of two hundred and seventy-five dollars, in full for the amount of damages assessed to me by the railroad commissioners of the State of New Hampshire, in conjunction with the selectmen of Wentworth, on account of the laying out of the said Boston, Concord, & Montreal Railroad through and over my land; and I do hereby release and discharge the said corporation from said damages".

Preseault v. United States was a notable US court case involving Rail to Trails programs in the state of Vermont. The case involved the scope of the government’s ownership in public interests it had abandoned years prior to its decision to reuse the property for another task without considering the land-owners rights.

Marvin Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States, 572 U.S. 93 (2014), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that a railroad right-of-way granted under the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875 is an easement. Therefore, when a railroad abandons such a right-of-way, the easement disappears, and the land owner regains unburdened use of the land.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Glossary of road transport terms</span>

Terminology related to road transport—the transport of passengers or goods on paved routes between places—is diverse, with variation between dialects of English. There may also be regional differences within a single country, and some terms differ based on the side of the road traffic drives on. This glossary is an alphabetical listing of road transport terms.


  1. CSX Corporation. "Railroad Dictionary: R" . Retrieved September 3, 2021.
  2. Henry Campbell Black: Right-of-way. In: A law dictionary containing definitions of the terms and phrases of American and English jurisprudence, ancient and modern: and including the principal terms of international, constitutional, ecclesiastical, and commercial law, and medical jurisprudence, with a collection of legal maxims ... (West Publishing Co., 1910), pg. 1040.
  3. Henry Campbell Black: Right-of-way. In: A law dictionary containing definitions of the terms and phrases of American and English jurisprudence, ancient and modern: and including the principal terms of international, constitutional, ecclesiastical, and commercial law, and medical jurisprudence, with a collection of legal maxims ... (West Publishing Co., 1910), pg. 1040.