variants rail-bank
rail bank
region North America
earliest known usage (unknown)
used by railroad managers and government
railbanked track in WisconsinA section of railbanked track in Sauk City, Wisconsin, in 2015. Note that the track has been severed where it crosses the road and the rails have been saved on the right-of-way for its future reinstallation in the crossing.

verb: to preserve a railroad right-of-way for future use by a railroad entity. "This stretch of track has been railbanked for a planned extension of service."

This term grew out of the need to preserve rights-of-way. The U.S. Congress passed a bill in 1983 amending the National Trails Act to allow railroad entities to preserve rights-of-way for future and potentially as-yet undefined rail transportation uses. In doing so, the railroad company could ensure that even though no trains were using that specific section of track and the track was effectively (although not actually or legally) abandoned, the land would not be sold and redeveloped. Railbanked rights-of-way are often opened to the public for use as trails in the interim until the land is needed again for railroad use.

The process of railbanking was first overseen by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC). When the Surface Transportation Board (STB) was formed in 1996 to replace the ICC, it assumed oversight of the railbanking process as well. In the 1998 reauthorization for the STB, it was noted that the ICC issued 285 railbanking orders preserving 3,223 miles of right-of-way across the country. As part of the process, the STB now assists railroad companies in establishing agreements with other entities over the use of the land. There have been several objections raised by opponents of railbanking, but so far (as of 2015), the process has been upheld by regulators and defended in cases heard by the Supreme Court of the United States.


  • Rails to Trails Conservancy. "Railbanking." Web. 22 Sept. 2015. (definition and origin)
  • Schwieterman, Joseph P. When the Railroad Leaves Town: American Communities in the Age of Rail Line Abandonment. Kirksville, MO: Truman State University Press, 2004. p. xxvi. ISBN 1-931112-13-4. Google Books. Web. 22 Sept. 2015. (definition)
  • Transportation Research Board of the National Academies. "Rail Banking." Preserving Freight and Passenger Rail Corridors and Service. Washington, D.C.: Transportation Research Board, 2007. pp. 4-5. NCHRP Synthesis 374. Google Books. Web. 22 Sept. 2015. (definition)
  • United States House of Representatives, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Railroads. Reauthorization of the Surface Transportation Board. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1998. p. 567. Google Books. 5 Feb. 2007. Web. 22 Sept. 2015. (history)
  • United States Surface Transportaiton Board. "Public Information > Resources: Rails to Trails." Washington, D.C. Web. 22 Sept. 2015. (definition and usage)