Historic Preservation - Section II
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Section II. Step-by-Step Guide on Completing the Board’s Historic Report Requirement


I.   Introduction

   The Board’s Office of Environmental Analysis (OEA) has prepared this guidance to assist applicants in completing the Board’s historic preservation review process as set forth in the Board’s environmental rules at 49 CFR 1105.8. The guidance is not regulatory but is intended to clarify the Board’s specific requirements for complying with Federal laws that govern the consideration of historic properties including the National Historic Preservation Act(NHPA).


II.   Historic Report Requirements

   The Board requires applicants proposing to construct a new rail line or to abandon, discontinue the use of, or merge existing rail lines, to complete an historic report (see 49 CFR 1105.8). The historic report includes relevant information regarding any railroad-owned historic properties that may be affected by a proposed action or undertaking. The data contained within the historic report is intended to allow OEA, State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPOs)/ Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (THPOs), and any consulting parties, such as Federally recognized tribes (tribes), to assess the National Register of Historic Places (National Register) eligibility of any identified historic properties, and consider the potential effect of a Board action on such resources. OEA must include the views of the applicant, SHPO/THPO, tribes and any other consulting parties in making a finding on a project’s effects on historic properties as stipulated in the regulations implementing Section 106 of the NHPA (36 CFR Part 800).


   The Board generally combines the Section 106 process with its NEPA process since Board actions subject to Section 106 usually require some form of NEPA documentation. OEA completes environmental assessments (EAs) in-house for most abandonment proceedings and for some construction cases. In such cases where EAs are completed in-house, OEA includes the information contained in the historic report in the EA. For most construction projects, however, applicants generally choose to hire a third-party contractor in order to ensure a timely conclusion of the NEPA process and to complete any necessary studies and documents to comply with NHPA. In those instances where an applicant chooses to hire a third-party contractor, submission of an historic report is not required (see 49 CFR 1105.10(d)). The use of a third party contractor is encouraged by OEA, but must be approved by the Board and follow the provisions outlined in the Board’s Policy Statement On Use Of Third-Party Contracting In Preparation Of Environmental Documentation.


   Applicants should submit the historic report along with its environmental report to the Board prior to or at the same time as its official Board filing for the proposed action (see 49 CFR 1105.7(a)). The Board recommends that applicants submit the historic report to the SHPO/THPO 60 days in advance, but requires the report to be submitted at least 20 days prior to filing an application, petition, or notice with the Board (see 49 CFR 1105.8). Early submission of the historic report will provide the SHPO/THPO with sufficient time to review the proposed action and subsequently give both OEA and the applicant more time to resolve any potential impacts to any identified historic properties.


   For abandonment cases, which have strict regulatory timeframes, consultation with the SHPO/THPO is often ongoing when the Board issues its final decision. Thus, if the Board approves the abandonment proceeding, the Board generally imposes a condition that requires the railroad to retain its interest in and take no steps to alter the historic integrity of the line and all sites and structures on the line until completion of the Section 106 process. This condition acts as a stay on the abandonment and essentially prohibits the railroad from beginning any abandonment or salvage activities until the Section 106 process has been completed and the Board has formally removed the Section 106 condition.


III.   Informational Requirements for Historic Reports

   The Board’s regulations state that an historic report must include the documentation requirements stipulated for the environmental report outlined at 49 CFR 1105.7(e) and the historic report requirements outlined at 49 CFR 1105.8(d) shown below as Requirements 1-9. Generally, applicants combine both requirements into a single document. Examples of combined historic and environmental reports can be found on the Board’s web site at http://www.stb.dot.gov/ under E-Library and “Filings.” The reports are categorized as “environmental filings.”


Historic Report Requirements 1 - 9

   Below is a listing of the specific data requirements for historic reports as specified in the Board’s environmental rules, along with notes that provide additional explanations on each requirement and/or helpful hints on where to readily acquire the data on-line or through Federal agencies and other sources.


Requirement #1.

A U.S.G.S. topographic map (or an alternate map drawn to scale and sufficiently detailed to show buildings and other structures in the vicinity of the proposed action) showing the location of the proposed action, and the locations and approximate dimensions of railroad structures that are 50 years old or older and are part of the proposed action (49 CFR 1105.8(d)(1)).



Note:      The applicant should use a scaled topographic map delineating the project area, such as those developed by the United States Geological Survey (U.S.G.S.). The map should show important geographical features such as streams and elevation changes and the locations of existing buildings and structures that are at least 50 years old and those features that generally demonstrate a project’s environmental and historical setting. The map(s) should show the project area in sufficient detail to be able to convey the area’s individual natural and cultural features (use a symbol to indicate the actual location of known historic railroad structures). If needed, such as in the case of a large project area, several maps should be used in conjunction with one map that shows a general overview of the project location (see Figure 1). Once a map(s) is selected for use, the applicant should clearly identify the location of the proposed project including end points, and the extent of the right-of-way (ROW) or Area of Potential Effect (APE), and any known railroad owned historic sites located within or just outside the ROW. Each map included in the report should also include a scale and a north arrow and legends as necessary.


Data Sources: U.S.G.S maps can be ordered on line through the U.S.G.S. web site at http://topomaps.usgs.gov/ordering_maps.html. This site also recommends other outlets where maps can be ordered. Topozone at http://www.topozone.com allows subscribers to download digital topographic maps directly from their site. The National Map site at U.S.G.S. allows its users to download aerial photographs of specific locations and add layers such as U.S.G.S. maps, road and railroad locations and Federal lands and other options.


Requirement #2.

A written description of the right-of-way (including approximate widths, to the extent known), and the topography and urban and/or rural characteristics of the surrounding area (49 CFR 1105.8(d)(2)).



Note:      A description of the right-of way (ROW) should include the rail line’s physical location, length, width and setting. The physical dimensions of the line are critical to delineating the extent of the APE. A description of the project area setting, including the current use of the surrounding land (i.e. agricultural vs. rural), helps to establish the current environmental and historic context for any historic properties located within the APE including any changes that may have been made to the area since the rail line was first constructed.


Requirement #3:

Good quality photographs (actual photographic prints, not photocopies) of railroad structures on the property that are 50 years old or older and of the immediately surrounding area (49 CFR 1105.8(d)(3)).



Note:     Photographs of the rail line and any railroad related structures, and the surroundings area will aid OEA, SHPOs/THPOs, and any consulting parties in assessing a particular property and determining what architectural, structural or engineering features or other qualities may make the property in question historically significant and therefore eligible for the National Register. Photographs may also indicate if an historic property is damaged or has been repaired. Photographs showing multiple views of individual properties and surrounding areas help place the resources within their historic and environmental context. The use of high quality digital photographs is encouraged as these can be readily incorporated into historic reports. Photographs must clearly show any railroad structures and associated features along the line including the railroad line itself. For structures and buildings, photographs taken at oblique angles are best as they can show more than one side or section of a resource (see Photo 1). Photocopies of original 35 mm or digital photographs that are dark or show smudged images such as the one depicted in Photo 2 below are not acceptable. All copies of historic reports sent to OEA, the SHPO/THPO or any consulting parties including tribes must include high quality photographs or high quality digital copies like the one shown in Photo 1.


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Photo 1.Example of acceptable photo showing oblique view.

Photo 2. Example of Unacceptable Photo


Requirement #4.

The date(s) of construction of the structure(s), and the date(s) and extent of any major alterations, to the extent such information is known (49 CFR 1105.8(d)(4)).




Note:   Resources that fit into the above categories can include bridges, culverts, overpasses, roads, railroad related buildings, and the rail line itself. Including dates on maintenance and renovation activities will help determine if the integrity or historic significance of any identified resources has been compromised or affected. Thus it is important to provide this data to the SHPO/THPO, OEA and any consulting parties as it will assist them in determining if the resources in question are eligible for listing in the National Register and should therefore be offered consideration under Section 106.


Requirement #5.

A brief narrative history of carrier operations in the area, and an explanation of what, if any, changes are expected as a result of the proposed action (49 CFR 1105.8(d)(5)).



Note:     This section should include information on why the line was initially constructed, what commodities were transported along the line, and what the railroad intends to do with the line once it is abandoned (i.e. will the salvage activities be restricted to the physical removal of the track and ties and/or ballast?). The narrative should also include information regarding associated buildings (depots etc.) or structures (i.e. bridges and culverts) that will be removed as part of the salvage activities. Be sure to indicate if no associated railroad building or structures will be removed, and if the salvage activities will be restricted to removal of track materials only. Information regarding the actual removal of structures is critical to assessing the effects of the proposed action on the area’s environment including any adverse effects to historic properties.


Requirement #6.

A brief summary of documents in the carrier’s possession, such as engineering drawings, that might be useful in documenting a structure that is found to be historic (49 CFR 1105.8(d)(6)).



Note:     Documents can include photographs, architectural drawings, maps, and maintenance records showing the replacement of railroad tracks and ties and related structures. If no documents are in the railroad’s possession, state where such documents can be found, if known. Documents that may be in the possession of the railroad can assist the SHPO/THPO, OEA and any consulting parties to further evaluate the historicity of the rail line and any associated resources.


Requirement #7.

An opinion (based on readily available information in the railroad’s possession) as to whether the site and/or structures meet the criteria of listing on the National Register of Historic Places (36 CFR 60.4), and whether there is a likelihood of archaeological resources or any other previously unknown historic properties in the project area, and the basis for these opinions (including any consultations with the State Historic Preservation Offices; local historical societies or universities) (49 CFR 1105.8(d)(7)).



Note:     The National Register Federal Program regulations at 36 CFR 60.4 identify the criteria that make an historic property eligible for listing. Applicants must base their opinion on the National Register eligibility of a resource on these criteria. In general, cultural resources may be eligible for the National Register if they are at least 50 years old, possess integrity, and meet at least one of the four criteria shown below:


   The National Register Criteria (from 36 CFR 60.4):


The quality of significance in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture present in districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association, and:    

A: That are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or

B: That are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; or

C: That embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or

D: That have yielded or may be likely to yield information important in prehistory and history.


Under Section 106 of NHPA, the Board is required to determine if a railroad abandonment or other action may impact National Register eligible or listed historic properties. That determination must be made in consultation with the SHPO/THPO, and tribes and other consulting parties. For railroad abandonments, it will generally be necessary for applicants to send copies of the historic reports to tribes and other interested parties in addition to the SHPO in order to assist OEA in making National Register determinations and assessing any adverse effects.


Data Sources: The National Register keeps an on-line data base that identifies properties currently listed in the National Register. The National Register Information System can be accessed at http://nrhp.focus.nps.gov/natreg/docs/all-data.html. In addition, many SHPOs now have on-line data bases that allow access to information about known sites including structures, buildings and archaeological sites. SHPO web sites can be accessed at http://www.cr.nps.gov/nr/shpolist.htm. For security reasons, on line access to information about archaeological sites is restricted and usually requires the submittal of a resume to the appropriate SHPO indicating a background in historic preservation, cultural resources management, archaeology or a related field. Some SHPOs charge a fee for this service. The National Register has also developed a number of bulletins to assist applicants in making an initial assessment regarding the National Register eligibility of specific properties. For a complete explanation of the criteria for listing on the National Register see


Requirement #8.

A description (based on readily available information in the railroad’s possession) of any known prior subsurface ground disturbance or fill, environmental conditions (naturally occurring or manmade) that might affect the archeological recovery of resources (such as swampy conditions or the presence of toxic wastes), and the surrounding terrain (49 CFR 1105.8(d)(8)).



Note:      Prior subsurface ground disturbance within the project area, including the area underlying the ballast, will minimize the possibility of finding intact archaeological sites in areas potentially impacted by salvage activities following the abandonment. Such information is very important to SHPOs, THPOs and tribes and OEA in determining the potential for areas underlying the rail line itself to contain intact archaeological materials. Environmental conditions, including the existence of toxic waste sites, landfills, or previous construction areas, will also indicate the prior disturbance of locations within the project area.


Requirement #9.

Within 30 days of receipt of the historic report, the State Historic Preservation Officer may request the following additional information regarding specified nonrailroad owned properties or groups of properties immediately adjacent to the railroad right-of-way; photographs of specified properties that can be readily seen from the railroad right-of-way (or other public rights-of-way adjacent to the property) and a written description of any previously discovered archeological sites, identifying the location and type of the site (i.e. prehistoric or native American) (49 CFR 1105.8(d)(9)).




Note:      For abandonment proceedings, the SHPO may request additional information. This additional request is generally made when the SHPO believes an abandonment may contain National Register historic properties that could be affected by a proposed abandonment, or the SHPO does not have enough information to comment on the project’s potential effects on historic resources. The data request may be as simple as the SHPO requesting additional photographs or a better map. However, the SHPO’s data request may suggest the need for a background or literature search and/or an on the ground reconnaissance survey to indicate the location of any prehistoric and historic sites in the area. The results of these activities are then recorded in a report and submitted to the SHPO, and SEA for their review. Each SHPO generally specifies their own requirements for completing such studies.


Data Sources: Helpful guidance on the types of surveys including the requirements of each survey is provided in National Register Bulletin 24: Guidelines for Local Surveys: A Basis for Preservation Planning. In addition, the Secretary of Interior’s Standards and Guidelines for Archaeology and Historic Preservation provides general guidance on the specific requirements for different levels of surveys. In addition, many states develop their own guidelines; these are often found on SHPO web sites.


The term “historic properties,” refers to National Register-eligible or listed prehistoric or historic districts, sites, buildings, structures, sacred sites, objects and artifacts, records, and remains that are related to such properties.

The National Register was established under Section 101 of the NHPA to serve as the nation’s formal list of significant cultural resources. Only properties listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register are given consideration under Section 106 of the NHPA.  

Section 106 of the NHPA states that:

   The head of any Federal agency having direct or indirect jurisdiction over a proposed Federal or Federally assisted undertaking in any state and the head of any Federal department or independent agency having authority to license any undertaking shall, prior to the approval of the expenditure of any Federal funds on the undertaking or prior to the issuance of any license, as the case may be, take into account the effect of the undertaking on any district, site, building, structure, or object that is included in or eligible for inclusion in the National Register. The head of any such Federal agency shall afford the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation established under part B of this subchapter a reasonable opportunity to comment with regard to such undertaking.

Tribal Historic Preservation Officers act in lieu of the SHPO for locations on tribal lands pursuant to 36 CFR 800.2(c)(2)(i)(A).

See Friends of the Atglen - Susquehanna Trail, Inc. v. Surface Transportation Bd., 252 F.3d 246, 251-52 (3 rd Cir. 2001) (commenting on the Section 106 process in abandonment proceedings: “[t]he fact that Congress has introduced a procedure which permits the slowing of the overall abandonment process reflects Congress’s intent to balance immediate, fast-track approval of the abandonment by the carrier with a more deliberate consideration of preservation of historically significant properties.”).

Any building, structure, district, or object older than 50 years is potentially eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. (The Criteria for evaluation are found in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 36, part 60, and are reprinted in National Register Bulletin 15: How to Apply the National Register Criteria for Evaluation.)

For abandonments, the ROW is the same as the APE. The APE is defined at 36 CFR 800.16(d) as: “the geographic area or areas within which an undertaking may directly or indirectly cause alterations in the character or use of historic properties, if any such properties exist. The area of potential effects is influenced by the scale and nature of the undertaking and may be different for different kinds of effects caused by the undertaking.”