Privately operated toll roads are completely different. There, the operating company generally never owns the right of way to begin with. Even if they build the toll road, all they are buying is the right to operate the road for for some term.
The key word there is limited. Eminent domain is supposedly limited to things in the Public Good. It's not meant to be a transference of wealth to private companies at the expense of the Public, and it's supposed to and does include attached riders on the usage of such eminent domain-appropriated properties. Such as required passenger travel quotas that were supposed to be applied to railroad companies as a public service.
> Privately operated toll roads are completely different. There, the operating company generally never owns the right of way to begin with. Even if they build the toll road, all they are buying is the right to operate the road for for some term.
It's not completely different. Obviously things varied hugely between different states, but some states did own their railroad right of ways as public goods (as they should have, and just as they generally do with utility pole right of ways, toll road right of ways, and interstate right of ways). It was only after the fact that many of the railroad owners decided they should also own the rights of way to avoid further regulation and abscond from original contract terms (such as, and most importantly, passenger travel minimums), and only then worked very hard (through monopolies and hard bargains) to purchase said rights of way from states desperate for quick cash or easily swayed by privatizer lobbies and deregulationists.
We do not vilify the early railroad folks as the "Robber Barons" for nothing, and it is incredible how much that history is forgotten or overlooked. It's also incredibly naïve to think that roads are immune from the same folly that happened to the railroads!
Indiana has a couple of toll roads today that are "in hock" to an Australian company that essentially wins the right of ways in the right circumstances of the tolls not paying enough for the loans that the Australian company bought from Indiana and the tolls are supposed to cover (just as passenger fares were supposed to cover railroad rights of ways and underages used to steal them from the public). It's amazing, ridiculous, and absolutely history repeating itself, because Indiana lost so much of its railroad right of ways in very similar overly privatized financial games.
A lot of railroads did, in fact, get their trackway for free. They didn't get it by eminent domain, but by land grant, as the first [white] owner of record. They got a checkerboard of land , so they could trade adjacent lands with the other grantees in order to establish a continuous railway.
The only holdouts were the Ghost Dancers.