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The Shenandoah Valley Rail Trail will be divided into six segments to allow user flexibility, if they are built individually.

A Missouri-based law firm that specializes in rails-to-trails litigation is representing more than 100 landowners whose property rights will impacted by the proposed Shenandoah Rail Trail.

Stewart, Wald and McCulley said in a statement that it expects to file a lawsuit on the landowners’ behalf when the federal government approves the conversion of a 48.5-mile stretch of railroad line from Broadway to Front Royal for the Shenandoah Rail Trail.

Attorney Michael J. Smith said that when the lawsuit is filed, the firm will seek monetary compensation for the taking of land in a case against the federal government.

The lawsuit is not against any local entities building the trail, and will not hinder trail progress, Smith said.

“What we do has absolutely no impact on the trail,” he said.

On June 1, the Virginia General Assembly approved the commonwealth’s budget, which included funding to purchase a dormant Norfolk Southern railway between Broadway and Front Royal. The trail has received endorsements from the seven incorporated towns it runs through, as well as Rockingham, Shenandoah and Warren counties.

Before the trail can be built, Smith said, the United States Surface Transportation Board must grant approval to convert the railroad line into a trail. Following that request, the board would approve the project under the Trails Act, and issue a Notice of Interim Trail Use, he said.

The Trails Act, Smith said, permits the conversion of abandoned railroad corridors into nature and hiking trails. The practice, known as railbanking, prevents the property from reverting to the adjoining landowners. It grants the trail sponsor a new easement, thereby blocking the rights of the landowner to reclaim the property within the corridor, Smith said.

“We are not seeking and do not expect to seek recovery against any entity other than the federal government,” Smith said in a statement. “We believe there are over 1,000 parcels of land that will be impacted by the rail trail conversion.”

A representative from Stewart, Wald and McCulley will be returning to the area in late August to conduct additional landowner meetings. Interested landowners can contact the law firm at www.swm.legal for details on meeting times.

Contact Kellen Stepler at 574-6279 or kstepler@dnronline.com | Follow Kellen on Twitter at @KellenStepler

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