Managing and developing railway land in the face of ecological challenges: analysing the implementation of railway easement regulations in France


  • Inès DELEPINE UMR Géographie-cités


railway easement, value, land property, environmental value, environmental public policy, public domain




As part of the research agenda opened by Halpern et al., (2014) on the instrumentation of environmental public action in France, we draw on several observations. Firstly, (i) town planning and public utility easements are instruments of public land policy that "are no longer confined to traditional neighbourhood relations" (Grimonprez, 2012) and can be used by managers to deal with natural (flooding: Fournier et al., 2021) or industrial (Martinais, 2010) risks. Secondly, (ii) research into the land and property activities of transport managers (Adisson, 2015; Magnan, 2016) has paid little attention to the day-to-day management of public property and the roles played by easements affecting land use.

In this paper, we will look at the easements (known as T1 type easements) that apply along the French public railway domain and encumber neighbouring properties, as instruments of public action regulating the relationship between the public authorities and the SNCF (responsible for State land and property). We will use the concept of railway easements arenas to characterise the relationship between the legislature and SNCF, as beneficiaries of these property rights and responsible for the protection, conservation, and use of the public domain. Beyond their technical dimension, we believe that the processes involved in rewriting and regulating railway easements can be analysed as arenas with "variable geometry backstage" (Cefaï, 2016) marked by a series of transactions and interactions. This "regulation" (Martinais, 2010) of easements can then be analysed according to three registers: (i) the starting point leading to the updating of the regulations (ii) the cartographic representation of the easement enabling the perimeter to be (re)defined and (iii) the resulting regulatory transcription (town planning prescriptions, zoning).

Our questions are as follows: (1) How do the railway companies' property units and the legislator legitimise these new delimitations and prerogatives in the eyes of local town-planning stakeholders? (2) How do the issues relating to the ecological and energy transition affect railway easements?

This paper is based on a participant observation (Cifre) carried out within the SNCF's property department on subjects relating to regulatory urban planning and the ecological transition. The research is supplemented by semi-directive interviews and case studies.

Although this research is ongoing, three results can be presented: (1) Successive updates and digitization in IT sytems of these railway easements underline firstly the growing importance of this tool in exchanges between the SNCF and the examining authorities when local planning documents are revised or planning permission is granted in the vicinity of railway tracks. (2) Recent changes in the way these easements have been rewritten (law on the orientation of mobility known as LOM law of 2019, renewable energy decree in 2023) are part of an adjustment to the railway ownership regime, reflecting the growing importance of environmental issues. For example, restrictions on land use in the vicinity of railway tracks have been strengthened by the SNCF's ability to require local residents to prune and clear vegetation. (3) However, some of the rewriting processes highlight the persistence of contradictory injunctions weighing on the public domain, between the principles of protection and the new paradigms of economic development of railway land. Thus, the introduction of derogations near railway tracks means that renewable energies can now be installed. As a result, the tasks assigned to the railway property departments are increasing, with the development of new uses for railway land.

Author Biography

  • Inès DELEPINE, UMR Géographie-cités

    PhD student, University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Géographie-cités, CRIA Team - in partnership with SNCF Immobilier


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