PA's Susquehanna Riverbank Closed by Norfolk Southern Railroad

Posted: 07/03/2001
by Jason Robertson

The Lancaster New Era reported on June 27, 2001 that Norfolk Southern had decided to close public access along 45 miles of the Susquehanna River in Lancaster County, PA. At least six public access points along this section will remain open; however, the decision closes shoreside access to the river for fishermen, waders, and some boaters.

According to published reports the decision was based solely on liability concerns. The Lancaster New Era quotes a Norfolk Southern employee, "Either we allow people to trespass, which certainly has safety implications, or we enforce our rights and people feel we've shut off access to the river." Either alternative is obviously a losing proposition to Norfolk Southern. However, there is another option.

On July 3 American Whitewater spoke with Norfolk Southern representatives and brought the State's recreational use statutes to the company's attention. These statutes are designed to grant public access to private property by removing the liability threat to landowners. Pennsylvania's statute (§68-11-477) is posted on our website along with all other state recreational use statutes. Pennsylvania's statute does not require the company to keep the property safe, warn of hazards, or provide an assurance of safety.

While the statute may not address the societal safety responsibilities that Norfolk Southern believes it has, it may provide an avenue for allowing some access, while limiting other activities inculding construction of semi-permanant fishing and hunting shelters. The ban was prompted by the death of a youth who fell from a rope swing on the side of the river in June 2001.

Jason D. Robertson
635 Joseph Cir
Golden, CO 80403-2349