Feds permit Metro-North to abandon former railway

More than 170 landowners along a dormant rail line that runs from the Beacon waterfront to the Connecticut border have asked a federal court to be compensated after a federal agency designated the corridor to be trail-ready.

The plaintiffs, represented by a St. Louis firm that specializes in “rails-to-trails” cases, filed two lawsuits this month against the U.S. government in the Court of Federal Claims. The first was dated Feb. 9, the day after Metro-North, which owns the line, received approval from the government to abandon it.

On Feb. 8, the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) issued a “notice of interim trail use” that allows Metro-North to close the 41-mile segment. The decision also let the agency “rail bank” the line so it can be reactivated if needed.

However, David Steckel, a Metro-North representative, said Wednesday (Feb. 21) that the agency has no plans to restore train service and that the STB ruling “provides a wonderful opportunity for a trail group, municipality or other appropriate public entity to construct and operate a trail.”

The Feb. 8 notice triggered the lawsuits by Stewart, Wald & Smith on behalf of 172 individuals and commercial entities that own property along the line. The plaintiffs argue that the STB, by allowing Metro-North to retain its right-of-way, violated the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits the government from seizing private property for public use “without just compensation.” They also argue that granting an easement to a rail-trail “sponsor” would cause the same harm.

The abandoned railroad line, shown in orange in this map from a legal filing, extends from Beacon to the Connecticut border.
The abandoned railroad line, shown in orange in this map from a legal filing, extends from Beacon to the Connecticut border.

More than 80 abandoned railroad lines in New York state have been converted to trails, including the 13-mile Dutchess Rail Trail that stretches from Hopewell Junction to the Walkway Over the Hudson and the 12-mile Putnam County Trailway between Baldwin Place and Brewster.

Last year, Dutchess County spent nearly $278,000 in federal funds on a study to determine the feasibility of creating a trail on the 13-mile stretch of the line from the Beacon train station to Hopewell Junction, where it would connect with the Dutchess Rail Trail (and the 750-mile Empire State Trail), as well as the 27-mile Maybrook Trailway, which connects Hopewell Junction and Pawling. The study is expected to be completed next year.

In Beacon, the line begins near the train station, loops past Dennings Point and Madam Brett Park and runs parallel with the east end of Main Street. The Beacon City Council has encouraged Dutchess County to create a trail on the line, particularly while the city considers rezoning a portion of Fishkill Avenue for increased commercial and residential development.

Stewart, Wald & Smith says its clients do not oppose a rail trail. Instead, said attorney Steve Wald, they seek payments “representing the full fair-market value” of the parcels as of Feb. 8, the date of the Surface Transportation Board decision.

The Beacon line
The Beacon line rails run through the city and continue east to Connecticut. (File photo by J. Simms)

Ownership claims can be complicated. Wald said last year that landowners adjoining the corridor could legally claim swaths likely lost in the 19th century, when railroads and boats were the primary modes of transportation. Wald said that railroads typically purchased or condemned the land needed for tracks, or acquired easements from property owners.

Current landowners whose “predecessors in title” had their land condemned or accessed through easements “have the same rights as the original landowners,” he said, and, in the event of a conversion of use, should be given “full possession and control” of the land or be compensated.

If the court decides for the plaintiffs, appraisers would determine how much land was lost to the railroad, as well as damages to the remainder of their land, such as a loss of privacy and/or security if a trail is built. The cases typically take two to four years to resolve, said Jackie Tebbe of Stewart, Wald & Smith.

The law firm, which has been meeting with people who own land along the corridor since 2021, held informational sessions this week in Fishkill.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Simms has covered Beacon for The Current since 2015. He studied journalism at Appalachian State University and has reported for newspapers in North Carolina and Maryland. Location: Beacon. Languages: English. Area of expertise: Beacon politics

Join the Conversation


  1. Might this case delay the rail trail by two to four years? Or, could the trail go ahead concurrently?

    1. There’s nothing to delay until a government or other type of agency commits to building the trail, and that hasn’t happened yet.

  2. While I agree that some form of compensation may be due to property owners, I think that a trail would benefit those who bike, walk, run, as well as snack shops and stores in the towns that parallel the trail. Many trails have come into existence thanks to abandonment, and I don’t believe that the land under the railroad right of way should be blocked from becoming a trail. Instead, install privacy fences while building the trail, and of course pay owners their due share of a swath of land say 100 feet by 50 feet. I don’t believe we should be held back from a trail many years while litigation occurs. The Putnam trail runs along property containing houses and businesses, and everything is fine. I say pay what’s due and lobby for the trail. I’ll be the first to bike the trail from Hopewell to Beacon.

  3. The current owners of railroad adjacent properties bought/acquired them for a given amount of money for a specified amount of land. They bargained for what they got with no reasonable (or unreasonable) expectation that they would be entitled to additional property for which they had neither bargained nor paid. To expect to be paid for land they never owned seems counterintuitive.

  4. The trail could benefit walkers and bikers, obviously. However, the encroachment to abutting landowners privacy should be the consideration. Would those who push for a rail trail be happy if it were in their back yard and impact their privacy? The comment regarding privacy fencing is a terrific idea in theory, but yet has it ever been done?

  5. I joined a class-action lawsuit years ago in conjunction with Albany County’s rail trail, expecting token compensation at best, which was not how things played out. Those along the rail trail who joined the lawsuit received a nice payout. My ex-wife and I received $35,000, of which a third went to the lawyers. It took several years start to finish, but did not impact the opening of the trail. [via Facebook]

  6. Despite this annoyance, this is how things done in the past need to be remedied. I’ve surveyed many railroads-for-trails projects. It comes down to how the title was taken and the language in the original documents. This railroad was taken in the 1850s through the 1860s and was taken from landowners in a variety of ways. Sometimes the railroads bought the land, sometimes they bought an easement and sometimes they condemned it through the courts. If the state is going to invest, it needs to have a clear title. [via Instagram]

Leave a comment

The Current welcomes comments on its coverage and local issues. All online comments are moderated, must include your full name and may appear in print. See our guidelines here.