Snow Job

by Don Boudreaux on February 24, 2007

in Environment, Property Rights

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal by my friend (and co-blogger at Market Correction) Andy Morriss:


I began reading your story on snowmobilers’ conflicts with railroads over trail access with a measure of sympathy for the snowmobilers (“Cold Case: Keeping Snowmobilers Off Straight and Narrow,” Feb. 22).  After all, snowmobiles are the target of a well-funded campaign by environmentalists aiming to get them off public land.  And the group featured in the story, the “Sno-Rascals” has a cute raccoon emblem on their snowmobiles, enhancing the charm of the hobby.  But when I read that the president of the club calls the Norfolk Southern railroad “the biggest pain” because it refuses to allow trespassing on its property, the snowmobilers lost much of my sympathy.  Property rights are fundamentally about the right to exclude others and the Norfolk Southern has the property rights.  If the Sno-Rascals want access to the Norfolk Southern property, they need only pay the railroad for access to change the issue from trespass to contract.   But it was when the story noted that the Sno-Rascals receive state funds to maintain trails on the property of others that they lost my sympathy entirely.  Raccoons are often portrayed in literature as thieves; a club with a raccoon emblem that takes taxpayers’ money to subsidize their hobby may have unconsciously made an appropriate choice of symbol.

Andrew P. Morriss
H. Ross & Helen Workman Professor of Law
University of Illinois, College of Law



Be Sociable, Share!



Add a Comment    Share Share    Print    Email


Russell Nelson February 24, 2007 at 9:01 am

The problem from a railroad's perspective is that of being sued by trespasser's estates. In an interaction with a train, every other vehicle loss. The public views this as the railroad's fault rather than the trespasser, so railroads often lose lawsuits.

Russell Nelson February 25, 2007 at 2:22 am
F. Neal Sever February 25, 2007 at 9:23 am

Assuming the deceased snowmobiler committed a longitudinal trespass, I doubt that the estate would prevailin an action against the railroad.

embutler February 26, 2007 at 9:13 am


yu havent heard of cases where a burglar sues the home owner for tripping over a hazard??

Previous post:

Next post: