United States Supreme Court
March 10, 2014
2014 U.S. LEXIS 1788
The US Supreme Court determined that a railroad right-of-way granted under an 1875 federal law was an easement only, and did not grant any title to the land. Thus, when the railroad was abandoned, the right-of-way was terminated, and the property owner retained ownership.
The case concerned a rail right-of-way that was established pursuant to the General Railroad Right-of-way Act of 1875. In the early part of the 20th century, a rail company obtained a right-of-way and constructed a rail line from Laramie, Wyoming to Coalmont, C0lorado. The railroad crossed land that had been patented to a private owner, but the rail line took precedence. By 1996, the rail line was no longer needed, and so it was abandoned, and all tracks removed. In 2006, the Federal Government claimed ownership of the entire right-of-way, including the portion that crossed the private land, now owned by the Marvin Brandt Revocable Trust.
The US Supreme Court held that the right-of-way was only an easement, and did not grant any other title to the land. Thus, the Federal Government had no claim on privately owned land after the railroad was abandoned. The government claimed a “reversionary interest” in the right-0f-way, but the Court held that no such interest existed.