Rights of Entry rules

When viewed as a collective industry, the railroads — from Class 1s like Union Pacific and CSX to local entities like NJTRANSIT and DART — own more land than almost any other industry in the United States. This means that if your business involves construction or maintenance of utilities, roads, or other infrastructure, there’s a good chance that you will one day need to access and work on land owned or leased by the railroads.

5 Important Facts About Railroad Rights of Entry Permits

This land — otherwise known as the railroad’s rights of way — is a critical piece of America’s infrastructure that’s protected by complex laws and regulations, so it’s important to obtain the proper permission before entering and/or working on it. This permission is known as a railroad rights of entry agreement or rights of entry permit. Here’s what you need to know about getting one.

  1. What is railroad rights of entry?
    A railroad rights of entry refers to written temporary consent from a railroad given to a specific company permitting the company to enter and alter the railroad’s private property for a pre-approved purpose such as constructing or maintaining road crossings or installing or maintaining pipeline and fiber optic wireline. These pieces of land owned or leased by the railway company are more commonly known as the railroad’s rights of way. Railroad rights of way generally include the land on which the tracks and railway infrastructure are built, including signal systems, communication lines, and any space required for the safe operation of the railroad, such as storage areas and maintenance equipment. Since railroad rights of way are where your company ultimately needs to operate, a rights of entry agreement and permit is what you’ll need to access it.
  2. Why do I need a railroad rights of entry agreement? 
    Railroads are entitled to control the use of and access to their rights of way. Entering a rights of way — let alone altering one — without a rights of entry agreement is trespassing, which can result in prosecution and fines. This is meant to protect you and the railroad as trains and railroads can present a danger to unauthorized individuals who might not have ample time to clear a workspace from an oncoming train — especially if the train schedule is unknown. It also protects the general public as improper installations can result in catastrophic damage to railroad facilities that may impact adjacent property or citizens. A railroad rights of entry permit ensures that all parties are aware of each other so that safety precautions can be put into place, including the use of a flagger to ensure safe, uninterrupted passage of trains. In addition to bodily harm, unauthorized entry and work can also damage the tracks, signal equipment, and general infrastructure. This can lead to costly repairs and service disruptions for which you may be liable. Depending on the state, a railroad company may take legal action against your company to recoup the cost of repairs plus compensation for train disruption. And if your company is caught working on a railroad’s rights of way without a rights of entry agreement in place, fines, penalties, and even criminal charges may be imposed — not to mention the hit your company’s reputation would take.
  3. How do I obtain a railroad rights of entry permit?
    To get permission to enter a railroad rights of way, you need to contact the railroad company directly and request a rights of entry permit. Depending on the complexity, the process can take up to 60 days and differs from railroad to railroad and state to state, but a good place to start searching for a railway’s contact information and processes is by visiting the Surface Transportation Board or by performing an online search.

No matter the railroad, you will need to provide the who, what, when, where, and why of your entry request, most likely in great detail, so be prepared with your full project plans. After approval of your plans, you will sign a rights of way or rights of access license agreement that spells out the terms and conditions of your rights to enter the railroad’s property. From there, you will need to obtain local and/or state permits before work can begin.

  1. How much does it cost to get a railroad rights of entry permit?
    Just like the permitting process, the fees and costs of a railroad rights of entry permit differ from railroad to railroad and from state to state. As far as overall costs of a rights of entry permit, expect to pay a fee for the permit itself, and then additional fees in case your project requires a railway flagger to direct traffic. Having a flagger on your work site not only helps keep your workers safe and project on track, but it also does the same for passengers and trains too.

You might also need to meet specific insurance requirements before your rights of entry request is granted. These special insurance policies can be outside of the normal scope for standard insurance companies to carry, so be sure to check with your current insurer before applying for your rights of entry permit.

  1. Can I use a specialized company to apply for a rights of entry permit?
    While you can obtain a rights of entry permit on your own, the process can be tricky and time-consuming. If your company doesn’t have experience with obtaining railroad rights of entry or utility license permits, or if your project is especially complex  hiring a company that specializes in railroad rights of entry property law and construction standards could be helpful.

These companies are highly specialized in railway permitting and can walk you through the process, offer professional advice and training, plus handle tedious paperwork, ensuring that your rights of entry permit application is complete and accurate. Additionally, if your company is planning a large-scale project that requires multiple permits, or if you’re not familiar with local regulations, a company that specializes in railway permitting will have the knowledge and resources to help you navigate even the most difficult of processes.

Need personalized guidance or have a question that no one else can answer about railroad rights of entry permits? Email us at [email protected] to see how RailPros can help with your upcoming projects.