A federal study has found that most proposals for 11 miles of railroad right-of-way stretching from Georgetown to Silver Spring, which CSX Corp. wants to sell, will not harm the property's historic and archeological sites as long as some restrictions are placed on the railroad company.

But residential construction along the right-of-way in the District's Palisades section, which railroad officials said is a possibility, could damage or destroy valuable archeological zones, according to the draft environmental impact statement compiled recently by the Interstate Commerce Commission, which regulates railroads.

The study also recommends that the commission require CSX to wait six months before selling the land or removing railroad tracks and other equipment, so that the government and private groups will have time to buy the property "for public purposes." CSX has told the ICC it "intends to salvage track and appurtenances" if abandonment is approved, the study noted.

The National Park Service wants to incorporate the District of Columbia portion of the right-of-way into the C&O Canal National Historic Park, which the rail property adjoins. Montgomery County officials hope to use the railroad property in the county for recreational purposes and for a cross-county transit line between Silver Spring and Bethesda.

An environmental statement was ordered more than a year ago by the ICC, after CSX asked for permission to abandon the Georgetown branch line because it is unprofitable. The study's completion, after two years of controversy over how the property should be used, moves the ICC closer to a decision on the company's request.

Freight trains on the line, built between 1892 and 1910, were once used to deliver coal to a General Services Administration plant in Georgetown that supplies heat to 120 federal buildings. Since May 1985, however, the railroad has delivered the coal by truck from Bladensburg and proposes to continue doing it the same way.

The ICC's energy and environment section staff, which prepared the environmental statement, recommended that the commission tell CSX that it cannot "sell, demolish or change the character" of railroad bridges, tunnels and other historic sites being considered for "eligibility for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places." More than 100 "historic resources," including all seven bridges on the Georgetown branch line, have been identified, the study says.

The staff also recommended that closer examination of 14 "archeological zones" be required before the railroad is allowed to begin removing tracks, bridges, ties and other equipment. A preliminary archeological study indicates that much of the right-of-way property "has been an important area of human habitation over the past several thousand years."

If abandonment of the rail line is approved, ICC and CSX officials say the company will be free to sell the property to anyone. That interpretation of the law is being challenged in a lawsuit, and is disputed by many local and federal government officials as well as environmental and recreational organizations.

These groups believe the ICC erred in saying the right-of-way can be converted to recreational use only if the railroad company agrees. The National Trail Systems Act requires that property be "made available to the public" when "reasonable terms" are offered the owners, according to written comments on the environmental study from Charles H. Montagne, who represents several organizations. Federal laws specify conditions that must be met, including an agreement to assume managerial, financial, legal and tax responsibilities.

Environmental and recreational groups have proposed hiking and biking trails, and railroad enthusiasts have suggested the line be used for scenic and light freight trains.

The National Park Service, which lacks the money to buy the right-of-way adjoining the C&O Canal park in the District, is negotiating to swap federal parkland elsewhere for the railroad's land in the city. "The issue at this point is a matter of . . . just how much of what type of land {the park service} must provide in order for the land swap to be acceptable to CSX," according to the environmental statement.

CSX officials have placed a value of more than $10 million on the property, a figure that "vastly exceeds" its worth if the ICC is right in predicting that the property will be difficult to sell, according to Montagne. Developers will be wary of expected opposition from the D.C. Zoning Commission, the National Capital Planning Commission and residents in the area, he said.

The Department of Interior, parent agency of the National Park Service, asked the ICC to require the railroad to "negotiate in good faith" with park service representatives "under the provisions of the National Trails Act."

A final environmental impact statement could be ready for publication within three to five weeks, according to Carl Bausch, head of the ICC's energy and environmental section. That timetable could be pushed back, however, if the commission grants a request from the Palisades Citizens Association for a chance to testify before the agency.

The Palisades citizens' group said it is "very pleased" with the environmental study but asked for the public meeting because members fear some of the commission's members "are not in sympathy" with the statement's recommendations, according to George Pugh, head of the association.

Another proposal came from the Columbia Country Club, which has a one-third-mile stretch of the right-of-way passing through its grounds. The club would like to see the railroad property preserved as "a travel corridor . . . where various types of wildlife could move easily and relatively safely."