Supreme Court ruling raises questions about old railroad land

Train tracks
(WISH photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – A ruling from the United States Supreme Court causes some to wonder about the future of old railroad land such as the popular Monon Trail.

The question arises from the case of Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States. The case rose to the high court from Wyoming–with a property owner trying to claim land that, for many years, had been used for a railroad. The court’s majority sided with the owner.

Chief Justice John Roberts prepared the majority opinion with evaluations of easements, rights of way and a congressional act of 1875. He said, decades ago, the court ruled one way on such property rights.

“We decline to endorse such a stark change in position,” now, he wrote.

So, the majority determined the landowner “resumes his full and unencumbered interest in the land.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the only dissenter, said, “I do not believe the law requires this result.”

Sotomayor said the ruling “undermines the legality of thousands of miles of former rights of way that the public now enjoys as means of transportation and recreation. And lawsuits challenging the conversion of former rails to recreational trails alone may well cost American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.”

24-Hour News 8 contacted the Indiana Greenways Foundation to ask whether it has similar concerns.

“You cannot build a trail on land that was previously used as a railroad if the railroad only had easements and didn’t own the land outright. If you want to build the trail, then you’ll have to buy the land or a trail easement from the property owner,” board member Dawn Ritchie said.

So, in short, she doesn’t think the ruling changes anything in Indiana. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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