WASHINGTON, March 10 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday easements for private land used for railroad beds expire when the railroads go out of business and revert to landowners.
The justices, in an 8-1 decision, relied on an 1875 law and used an argument the government successfully made to the court 72 years ago against the government in the case at bar, Scotusblog reported.
In the lone dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted that some of the public and private land governed by the case, formerly lying beneath railroad tracks, had been turned into trails for the public's use, and the government could be hit for compensation federal officials have said could run into hundreds of millions of dollars.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., who wrote the majority opinion, said the decision applied only to former railroad rights-of-way lying across private parcels that the government gave away to private individuals under the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875. He said the decision would not apply to the rights-of-way property railroads abandoned after October 1988 because a law passed that year clarified that the lands would be under federal ownership once the railroads abandoned them.
Scotusblog said it wasn't clear how many acres will be affected by Monday's ruling although the Justice Department had told the court the case involved the legality of "thousands of miles of former rights-of-way" that the public now uses as recreational trails or park lands.