Trail Costs and Benefits

The cost of developing trails varies according to land acquisition costs, new structures needed, the type of trail surface, the width of the trail, and the facilities that are provided for trail users. Construction costs alone can run $40,000 per mile for a soft surface trail to more than $1,000,000 per mile in an urban area for a paved trail.

Acquisition costs for the trail corridor also vary enormously. Railroads have donated abandoned corridors to government agencies of non-profits organizations. They have also offered them for sale at nominal prices. However, these corridors are often valuable real estate and may have to be bought at market prices. Again, seek professional help in negotiating with railroads, property owners, and interested non-profits in acquiring abandoned rail corridors.

There are many examples of creative ways that communities have acquired corridors. Organizations such as the Rails to Trails Conservancy have documented many of these examples and have catalogued the many benefits of rail trails. These include promoting tourism and economic development, cleaning up abandoned industrial sites while preserving the nation's industrial heritage, creating linear parks and open space, and promoting healthy lifestyles. Trails such as the Iowa Heritage Trail and Nebraska's Cowboy Trail provide natural areas for native plant species. Capital Crescent Trail, in suburban Maryland and the District of Columbia, has preserved a corridor for potential future rail use that could never be pieced together again if it had been lost to development when railroad operations first ceased.