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reclaiming old railroad bed. Mulching...?

Posts: 17
Location: Elk County PA
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Going through my property (and it is my property) is a railroad track that has not been used. The company applied to the Federal Government to have it "abandoned (versus "banked")" so they have about 5 yrs to get the rails and ties and gravel out.

Under all of this is a bed of coal ash-cinders, that was used to originally build up the rail bed. They will not be required to remove this this they only have to return the area to "original grade/slope" and are not required to do any type of rehabilitation to it.

With these cinders, what are some ideas to rehabilitate this area? That is, what do you think would be a good way to make this strip of property usable for me then the growing of weeds?


Let's see, where to start...

I own all of the property on both sides, in fact, I live on a unusual stretch of RR line. It was 'condemned' (the right of way) for RR use only by a court before it was built over 100 yrs ago. There was a small town here and they didn't want RR land grabs and such-like what was going on "out west" at the time. A judge agreed to allow the line but only allow it for RR use only. For us today, that mainly means that the RR can not transfer the right of way to anyone, like a rails to trails tyoe of thing.

By deed, I own continuously all the way through down to the middle of a river. My deed does not "stop" to reflect the presence of the right of way, only says that one is there. Me and others on this 5 mile stretch seem to be the only property owners in this area with this kind of RR relationship.

They stopped maintaining it about 8 yrs ago and stopped using it 2 yrs ago. It is disconnected in town and bypassed over to a line across the river. For nearly 15 yrs, I have been the only one spraying any herbicides. I submitted a request to the RR claiming that I had livestock (chickens) and food for human consumption growing and that I wanted to know what was being applied and the only way was for them to stop spraying. So I had to sign an agreement saying I would maintain the right of way.

My property is a big rectangle with "simple sides" boxed in by a road on one side and the river on the other. The RR follows the river and the road parallels the RR. So the tracks on my property run in a straight shot.

They will bid out the demolition and the contractor will be required to remove the ties and rails, plates, spikes and gravel. The gravel is like a number 1 large gravel-too big for anything I need. They will take it anyhow no matter if I wanted it or not. There is currently a market for gravel for building the Natural gas pads with all the fracking going on.

I plan on using the space to plant more fruit trees / bushes. I am thinking that well cured chicken manure would be a first step in 'reclaiming' the cinders. And then adding in regular soil later for more mass.

Another issue is that people illegally use the right of way to ride 4 wheelers. Everyone knows it is illegal but no one enforces it. If any of us try to stop them by putting a tree in the way or something, people just move it. They feel it their god given right to ride where they like.

When I do get the ground back I plan on creating a "living barrier" of apple or pear trees. Not necessarily blocking the road but making it very difficult to come through. I also plan on busting up the clay culvert pipe that is under a section where a small stream passes through-creating a bridge. Of course I will have to put up a "bridge out" sign so I do not get sued if someone gets hurt trespassing on my property (the whole issue is ridiculous, the RR will come through and make sure that the right of way is "safe" for 4 wheelers to ride through even though it is illegal. They would rather have people break the law then get sued if someone s hurt)

I think that mulching would be a good idea as well to get a good layer of some top of "soil" going.


Posts: 107
Location: Merrickville, Ontario
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That's an interesting situation you have there, Ted.

I don't have any specific knowledge of how to rehabilitate such an area, but I if I were in your shoes I'd steer clear of the rail bed for any edible crops you have planned. Wikipedia lists toxins potentially to be found in coal ash and it's a who's who of environmental contaminants, including arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium and PCBs. And I'd get a layer of something over it as soon as possible to avoid wind dispersal of coal ash dust. A layer of mulch seems like a good idea, but ideally 8 to 12 inches, so you'll need an awful lot of it. Make this your wood lot and try to get something growing there quickly that will create it's own mulch so you won't have to constantly renew the mulch layer as it decays.

You may find the following resource helpful: Handbook on treatment of coal ash disposal sites

Good luck Ted.
Posts: 3113
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
forest garden solar
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You have quite a few things going on.

The 1st would be to fence in the land before the demolition crew comes in, leaving the RR open so that 4 wheeler can use it.
While and after the demo team is there I would close it. Then I would build a big pond to block the $ wheelers. Fence in the railroad area with some rabbid dogs.

As for the actual RR, it is filled with heavy metal and always will be so dont eat any veggies or nuts that grow there or any animals (chicken, worms, etc) that visit there.
I know that some species of mushroom will breakdown the toxic organic compounds but not the heavy metal, infact the mushroom will concentrate the heavy metal into the fruiting body

You might be able to get away with eating fruits because they dont have/store metals/minerals including heavy metals.

As someone else mention those blocks contain lots of heavy metals so if you can pay the demo crew a few thousand dollars to remove the blocks then you really should.

You could plant some X-mass trees over the ares and then sell them. No one is going to eat the trees and they will end up in the land fill after a few weeks.

Being a smart alec beats the alternative. This tiny ad knows what I'm talking about:
Food Forest Card Game - Game Forum
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