C.S. Davidson completes historic 26-mile Heritage Rail Trail

January 2023

After 32 years of working on the project, C.S. Davidson has finished work on the Heritage Rail Trail County Park, a multi-use path which winds its way for 26 miles through southern York County, along with a northern extension of the trail. 

The pathway runs from the Pennsylvania-Maryland state boundary north to York City and continues to John C. Rudy County Park, and C.S. Davidson engineers have touched it every step of the way. 

Resurrecting a dormant rail line

The former railroad bed on which the trail is built was active as far back as the Civil War and was in use until 1972, when Hurricane Agnes destroyed several railroad bridges along the corridor. It wasn’t financially feasible to rebuild the bridges, so the rail line sat dormant. 

York Heritage Rail Trail

Then, York County acquired the entire abandoned railroad corridor for $1 from the federal agency which took possession of similar abandoned rail lines. The national rails-to-trails movement was just starting to gain steam, and county officials saw the potential in their backyard. 

Not long after the County made the purchase, Dave Davidson jumped in and secured C.S. Davidson’s involvement in 1990, and the company soon became the go-to engineer for the York County Rail Trail Authority. 

And then they got to work. They started from the state boundary and worked their way north to New Freedom. Initially, there was no significant funding for the project. Boy Scout troops volunteered to build trail after the rails were removed. 

Grants give green light to ramp up construction

Once the project built some momentum, grant money started to trickle in. They were able to build entire stretches at a time. One section runs through Hanover Junction Station, where President Abraham Lincoln passed through twice – once on his way to deliver the Gettysburg Address, and the second carrying his body for burial in his home state. 

When the trail reached Hanover station, funding increased, and the project received federal dollars for larger sections. Around that time, in 1996, Jeff Shue, C.S. Davidson Director of Municipal Services and a licensed engineer, got involved. Jeff represents eight different municipalities as engineer of record, one being the York County Rail Trail Authority. 

He started with the Hanover Junction section and guided the project into York City. When they reached the end of the railroad bed, The Authority realized they could continue the trail along Codorus Creek thanks to an embankment system built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That allowed them to stretch the path all the way to Rudy Park. 

Challenges create obstacles to rethink, overcome

The project came with numerous design and construction challenges. For example, there are two sets of rails, and one is still active with a tourist sightseeing train, which constantly posed safety challenges during construction.

C.S. Davidson needed to build an entirely new pedestrian bridge in the spot where one bridge was washed out by the hurricane. Much of the other bridge infrastructure was still usable but needed new decking for pedestrian use. 

Other major obstacles were neighbors to the rail trail. The railroad line was abandoned and already conducive to criminal activity. Almost all property owners along the rail line were initially against the trail because they were connecting these areas to the city and the neighbors thought that would bring in a criminal element. However, Shue says the rail trail has all but eliminated those issues along the corridor.

“Construction and development of rail trails happens at a snail’s pace and takes years of commitment and slogging along to make them happen,” Shue said. “You need to convince the public that it’s a positive, and these trails are expensive.”

One of the things Shue said C.S. Davidson is especially proud of is finding $2 million to help build the northern section of the trail. 

The project was at a standstill, with the team unsure where the money would come from. Then Shue and his team recognized there was money available for Codorus Creek for water quality improvements. He worked with the PennVEST state loan program to secure the funding and was successful since the trail would act as a filter for water running off roads and other surfaces into the creek. 

The team even secured a grant instead of a loan. PennVEST evaluates funding recipients based on their ability to pay back the loan, and since the Rail Trail Authority does not charge for the use of the trail and has no revenue source, PennVEST gave them the grant.If you have a complex municipal project and need support, contact C.S. Davidson today to discuss how we can work together.