On July 16th, 2021, Governor Baker signed the FY22 state budget—and included in the budget was an amendment to the CPA legislation that allows for the acquisition of former railroad land using CPA funds. While CPA has always allowed funds to be used for rail trail construction, this change now provides communities with the means to fully acquire the land for the purposes of Outdoor Recreation. The change marks the 12th time CPA has been amended since it was signed into law in 2000; a full history of these amendments can be found here.
The amendment, included as section 22 of the “outside sections” of the FY22 Massachusetts State Budget, allows municipalities to spend CPA funds “to acquire land, or real property interests therein, held for railroad purposes to be used by the city or town for recreational use as a rail trail as defined in section 35A of chapter 82.” According to the state’s definition, a rail trail is a “property converted from the former use as a railroad right-of-way to a use as a publicly-owned, improved and maintained corridor for bicycle, pedestrian and other non-motorized public transportation, recreation and associated purposes.”
Why was this change needed?
Rail trail construction has always been a popular project category for CPA communities, but former railroad beds are often subject to “rail banking,” which means the federal government forever retains the right to convert the land back to railroad use. Rail trail advocates feared this might conflict with the requirement that land acquired with CPA funds be permanently used as recreational land. This amendment to CPA removes any future legal complications in the unlikely event the land is returned to railroad use.
Official text of CPA Rail Trail Amendment:
Section 22 (CPA Rail Trails)
Subsection (b) of section 5 of chapter 44B of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by adding the following paragraph:-
(4) The community preservation committee may recommend and the legislative body of a city or town may approve appropriations from the fund to acquire land, or real property interests therein, held for railroad purposes to be used by the city or town for recreational use as a rail trail as defined in section 35A of chapter 82. Notwithstanding subsection (a) of section 12, land, or real property interests therein, acquired pursuant to this paragraph shall remain subject to any property interest, including restrictions or reversionary interests, required to be held by the grantor or the United States pursuant to the federal National Trails System Act of 1968, as amended. Notwithstanding the definition of real property interest in section 2, land, or real property interests therein, acquired pursuant to this paragraph shall be considered a real property interest for purposes of this chapter, and a conservation restriction that meets the requirements of sections 31 to 33, inclusive, of chapter 184 shall be required.