Railroad Searches Are One of Our Many Specialties

Dane County Title is one of the few title companies in the state which supplies reports for current or former railroad-owned properties based upon the railroad records held at the office of the State of Wisconsin, Department of Financial Institutions. Why is this significant?

Wisconsin Stats. §190.11(1) provides that “Every conveyance or lease, deed of trust, mortgage or satisfaction thereof made by any railroad corporation …shall be filed with department of financial institutions…”. In addition, Wis. Stats. §190.11(2) indicates that such filings have the same effect and provide the same notice of rights and interest as to any property in the state as though the document had been filed in the office of the Register of Deeds for the particular county or counties in which the property is located. Therefore, if you are dealing with a parcel of real estate for which title had been or is currently held by a railroad company, a review of the railroad records at the State of Wisconsin, Department of Financial Institutions is necessary in order obtain a complete understanding of the title for the premises. Keep in mind that the records at the Department of Financial Institutions cover railroad-owned property not just in Dane County but throughout the entire state.

As an example: the former Nakoma Shopping Center lands in the City of Madison include a strip of land along the west side which was formerly part of the railroad corridor owned by the Illinois Central Railroad Company. The railroad land was originally acquired by from private landholders in 1887 by the Chicago, Madison and Northern Railroad, which through subsequent corporate mergers and acquisitions, became a part of the Illinois Central. In 1971 the Illinois Central conveyed title to the strip to a group of individuals doing business as Brunsell Brothers Lumber & Millwork Company, with subsequent conveyances down to the present-day titleholder. As a result of this history, any party researching title to the premises must use two data sources: the records at the office of the Register of Deeds for Dane County for the period subsequent to 1971 and the railroad records at the Department of Financial Institutions for the pre-1971 period.

In addition to having a separate depository for their real estate instruments, railroad companies also enjoy a unique situation with respect to tax records. Local tax bills may not include property owned by railroad companies; however, even if not on the local assessment rolls, railroad property is nevertheless taxable by the state Department of Revenue. As a result, this state office must be checked in order to verify the tax status for any railroad company if the property in question is railroad-owned.

Being situated in Madison, our office is the only title company whose personnel search these state offices on a regular basis in order to prepare reports relating to railroad-owned property. Our Railroad Report provides the following information for customers:

  • An abstract of the chain of documents related to the initial railroad entity (as identified for us) and its corporate descendants as found in the Department of Financial Institutions, together with a copy of the most recent document(s) related to the current railroad name.

  • Copies of unsatisfied mortgage(s), UCC’s, lien, easements/restrictions, etc. as found in the Department of Financial Institutions’ records.

  • A check of the payment status of railroad taxes at the Department of Revenue.

The indices for the railroad records at the Department of Financial Institutions are grantor/grantee based. Unlike documents filed at the local county Register of Deeds office, the railroad documents often do not have specific legal descriptions but instead describe property locations by reference to particular railroad mile markers. As a result, a search of the Department of Financial Institutions railroad indices is more easily started if our office is provided with a copy of a recorded deed or other document referencing the first railroad name so that the correct chain of railroad entities can be followed for the search. Likewise, our railroad search can proceed more swiftly if we are provided with a copy of the tax roll information for the railroad property and a map or survey of the premises, ideally with a quarter-quarter section reference. Having such mapping in hands allows us to compare the information for the premises with the railroad right-of-way maps at the Department of Financial Institutions.