possession of rail

Railroadforums.com is a free online Railroad Discussion Forum and Railroad Photo Gallery for railroaders, railfans, model railroaders and anyone else who is interested in railroads. We cover a wide variety of topics, including freight trains, passenger and commuter railroads, rail news and information, tourist railroads, railway museums and railroad history.


New Member
Reading on a totally different forum the question was posted as to legality of having a piece of old rail. The person asking was given a short section by a RR worker....another mentioned a new building going up and demolition revealed some old rail in ground. What do you folks know about 'owning' a piece?


Active Member
Honestly.... How are they going to prove where it came from?

Reality, unless you are tying to sell it, who cares? Nobody will ever know.


New Member
Honestly.... How are they going to prove where it came from?
That would be difficult, but not impossible. I doubt if thefts of rail would ever get to the level of theft of copper cable (I hope not, anyway), to where the owning company might use some of the "synthetic DNA" stuff that's starting to be used to trace stolen copper, but maybe it could happen someday.
Problems with theft from a storage area could lead to a "bait" operation, but otherwise, it's not likely anyone would know where a chunk of rail came from.

Unless you are out right stealing it for scrap metal- who cares?
Which happens more than many people might realize.
Many scrapyards will require a would-be seller to produce a letter showing that they're authorized to have any railroad materials that they're trying to sell for scrap. One of the recyclers around here was so cautious that when a couple of guys showed up in a company dump truck with old track materials in it, they still had to produce a letter releasing the materials for sale.
Earlier this month, I saw a Scrap Theft Alert from CSX in the Detroit area. A guy in a Ford F-150 was last seen leaving a scrapyard with about 4,000 lbs. of rail in the back of the pickup truck. I didn't get any more details on it, but I'm guessing the truck got on the scale at the scrapyard, and that was how they knew the amount, before the recycler turned the guy away because he couldn't prove how he came to be in possession of all that steel.
I just checked the scrap price of #1 rail (cut into 1' lengths), and it's a little over 16¢/lb. for less than a truckload. (TL being 40,000 lbs.) I guess the possibility of getting $650 could entice somebody to drive around with the rear wheel wells of their pickup rubbing on the back tires. :rolleyes:

But unless the railroad was really picky about scrapping every little piece of rail themselves, you'd probably be okay with a short piece for a decoration or door stop, or even a few short pieces. (Some guys prize them for use as anvils.)
Going around with a bunch of it in the back of a truck, you might draw police attention. ;)


Forum Host
Staff member
If you show up at a scrapyard with a truckload of railroad materials, rail, spikes, tie plates, whatever, you'd better be able to prove ownership in some manner. Usually a signed letter on railroad letterhead.

Got a foot long piece you're using as an anvil? Nobody is going to pay any attention to it. I know that if you happened by my jobsite and asked for a short chunk, I'd tell you that if you found a chunk small enough you can carry it, you could have it.


New Member
Well I have been in the railroad scrap business for 22 years. I have seen it all. No one is going to question you for having a foot long piece of rail. In my career I have given away 100's of 1 foot pieces to guys that walk up to a worksite and ask. It's no big deal. And no one is going to burn on you for selling it either. I used to sell 10" chunks of 85 pound rail on E-bay all the time. Throw it in a flat rate box, no big deal. No one ever said a thing about them, ever. And I sold quite a few.

Keep in mind that not all the track in the country is owned by the railroads. Most industries and such own there own sidings, so there are hundreds of thousands of tons of privately owned rail out there.

Most scrapyards will buy it from you if they:
1. Know you.
2. Have the check made out to a business.
3. Arrive in a company-owned and lettered truck.

I have sold scrap rail to yards all over the midwest without any problems. They pretty much can tell if you have stolen it.


RailroadForums.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com

RailroadBookstore.com - An online railroad bookstore featuring a curated selection of new and used railroad books. Railroad pictorials, railroad history, steam locomotives, passenger trains, modern railroading. Hundreds of titles available, most at discount prices! We also have a video and children's book section.

ModelRailroadBookstore.com - An online model railroad bookstore featuring a curated selection of new and used books. Layout design, track plans, scenery and structure building, wiring, DCC, Tinplate, Toy Trains, Price Guides and more.

Affiliate Disclosure: We may receive a commision from some of the links and ads shown on this website (Learn More Here)