Skip to content
Home » Railroad Land Rights – Surface Transportation Board

Railroad Land Rights – Surface Transportation Board

HARTWELL RAILROAD COMPANY et al. v. HARTWELL FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, INC. Additional Party Names: The Great Walton R.R. Co., A23A1021, 2023 WL 7101212 (Ga. Ct. App. Oct. 27, 2023)

This case did not involve a state or local government entity, but it addresses important issues encountered by Departments of Transportation and other departments, boards, and agencies.

Walton now appeals from the superior court’s order. Walton contends that the superior court disregarded the unambiguous language in the subject deeds showing that the Church did not own the property and disregarded the three license agreements between Walton and the Church expressly providing that the Church did not own and would not assert title to the property. It also contends that the court erred in alternatively concluding that the Church acquired title to the property by adverse possession. Finally, Walton asserts that the trial court erred in entering a permanent injunction requiring it to remove the spur track because the Surface Transportation Board has exclusive jurisdiction of matters related to the removal of railroad tracks.

[. . .]

As to Walton’s purported ownership of the property underlying the spur track, it is undisputed that Walton’s predecessor only received a 20-foot right of way for its mainline, and that the spur track sits outside that 20-foot right of way. Simply put, there is nothing in the record showing that Walton ever had any interest in the land on which the spur track sits.13 Accordingly, the superior court was correct in concluding that the Church acquired fee simple title to the property underlying the spur by deed.

[. . .]

Walton contends that the superior court erred in granting the Church’s requested injunctive relief because the removal and abandonment of railroad tracks falls under the exclusive jurisdiction of the STB. Essentially, Walton argues that the remedy ordered by the superior court is preempted by the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (“ICCTA”) because it forces abandonment of the track and that the removal of railroad track falls under the exclusive jurisdiction of the STB. As explained below, Walton appears to be correct.

[. . .]

In other words, “even a railroad track excepted under 49 U.S.C. § 10906 from the need to obtain [STB] authority for the construction, abandonment, or operation, is nevertheless subject to the Board’s jurisdiction and is not subject to state or local regulation.” (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Wichita Terminal Assn. v. F.Y.G. Investments, 305 P3d 13, 21 (Kan. Ct. App. May 31, 2013). Thus, while the STB has deemed the spur track at issue ancillary track excepted under § 10906 and thus STB approval is not required for abandonment, the track is still under the STB’s jurisdiction. Moreover, given the STB’s conclusion that it may need to determine whether the spur/runaround track remains part of the interstate rail system if Walton was unsuccessful in the superior court proceedings in establishing a property interest in the land underlying the track, a further determination by the STB may be necessary before Walton is required to permanently remove the track. At this juncture, we cannot say that the superior court’s permanent injunction requiring removal of the track is appropriate, and we vacate that portion of the superior court’s order.