If I understand correctly, once an abandonment approved by the Federal agency (ICC/STB) was consummated, the property was no longer under Federal jurisdiction and was subject only to state/local laws. This has become a factor in the disposition of several dead rail lines (PC and others).
Another factor is that many pieces of right of way weren't owned directly by PC or predecessors, but were easements (like utility lines). When rail operation ceased (usually defined as approved abandonment, see above), the property reverted to the original owners or successors. Even if the property was owned by the railroad, sometimes deed covenants had similar conditions.
From: Bill K. [mailto:pontiac -AT- dreamscape.com]
Sent: Thursday, August 23, 2001 6:42 AM
To: penn-central -AT- smellycat.com
Subject: Re: PC: PC in the news...
A good number of properties were not transferred to Conrail and remained the responsibility of the former RR company to dispose of; this is how some shortlines were able to lease lines from the PC after C-day. In most cases though these were light density lines or otherwise redundant and once the track was pulled the land was sold, as well as related property such as structures and shops. Not sure what the issue is regarding this case, perhaps the track was removed and the property allowed to sit unused. Penn Central of course still exists today under a new name, while the Reading Company only recently moved it's headqaurters to California to become some kind of movie production company (I believe) after selling the former RDG building in PA. About all they retain from the RR is the name itself at this point. Believe the LV, EL and CNJ all dissolved once real estate and other financial matters completely tied up.