Don’t be derailed by rights-of-way

Don't be derailed by rights-of-way

The disappointing scale-back of California’s showcase high-speed rail system between San Francisco and Anaheim has many experts asking what lessons can be learned. Similar pushbacks have occurred on other continents: witness the popular resistance to construction of a new superstation as part of Stuttgart’s urban renewal, which escalated into violent demonstrations, delays, and stalemates. Megaprojects worldwide encounter opposition from the very people they aim to serve.

Developing countries without the open expanses of, e.g., Central Asia or parts of the People’s Republic of China, often point to their difficulties in buying a right-of-way corridor through crowded cities or confusing, multiple smallholder farm plots along which a highway or rail project is planned. (Usually rail rights-of-way run along ground-level, i.e. at-grade, which for our purposes includes embankments and cuttings that permanently change the topography).

There are many reasons for these difficulties, just as each country’s socio-political and land use history is diverse and defies easy stylization (Table 1).

Table 1: Difficulties in Securing Rights-of-Way for Public Transport

Main problem Reasons Ease of Solution
Poor or no land titling; unclear, contesting owners History; land reform; society dispossessed or war-torn Long term; nation- or state-wide reforms are best
Indigenous/squatters; stewardship of nature Conflict in land use views; respect and reparations Often intractable; politically unpalatable; losers resent
No or slow eminent domain/forced sales Different legal tradition; weak courts; lack of trust Usually long term; multi-generational wait
Unpredictable zoning; unfair to first movers/first peoples Religious or cultural uses; original use vs. new plans Medium term; improve consultation/voice stages
Uncertain if land gets used for planned public purpose Many risks of projects stalling, greater in DMCs At preplan and build stages;believable guarantor helps
Suspicion of governance and process transparency; insensitive involuntary resettlement History; stage of rule of law; distrust of …continue reading