IFB encourages landowners to seek advice on private railroad crossing 'license'

Some in southwest Illinois have received requests from railroad companies, but the issue could be more widespread.

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An Illinois Farm Bureau attorney advises landowners to consult a lawyer knowledgeable in easements before signing a license for a private railroad crossing. (Illinois Farm Bureau file photo)

By Kay Shipman

Landowners should not sign a “license” for a private railroad crossing without first seeking advice from a knowledgeable attorney, advised Illinois Farm Bureau Attorney Garrett Thalgott.

Recently, landowners have received letters from railroads encouraging them to sign a “license” to authorize the use of private crossings, Thalgott said. While IFB has learned of letters being sent in southwest Illinois, the issue may be more widespread.  

“This (letter) appears harmless because the railroad is not explicitly saying, ‘We’ll take away your crossing.’ The problem is, if you sign a license, it can later be revoked,” he said.

In fact, landowners may already have an easement, which may be legally much stronger than a license, according to Thalgott. The easement may not be in writing, but may be implied by law, and give the landowner “the right to use this crossing.”

By signing a license, Thalgott said, “It may be trading a strong landowner right for a weak one.”

In addition, the license offered may specify the railroad would be responsible for maintaining the crossing between the tracks, making the landowner responsible for the rest of the crossing. “A railroad bed is more than just the tracks,” Thalgott said.

The attorney urged landowners not to sign any license for a private railroad crossing and to speak with a lawyer who understands easements. He recommended landowners contact their county Farm Bureau office for more information.

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