Ameren plans to make decision on former rail line soon

Non-profit group hopes to establish biking and hiking trail

Tracks on the former Rock Island Railroad right of way in Eldon are shown in this May 31, 2012, file photo.

Tracks on the former Rock Island Railroad right of way in Eldon are shown in this May 31, 2012, file photo.

The possibility of turning about 145 miles of the inactive Rock Island Railroad line into a biking and hiking trail across Missouri could come to fruition.

On July 28, the non-profit Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) submitted a bid to purchase the railroad property, which was abandoned in the 1960s. Despite more recent attempts to reorganize it, the property has not seen train service since the early 1980s.

Ameren Development Company (ADC), which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Ameren Corporation, recently announced it was “divesting” its ownership of the Missouri Central Railroad Company (MCRR).

In a prepared statement, Ameren officials said, “As part of this process, it has sent out confidential request for bid packages to potential purchasers. The MCRR is part of the former Rock Island line (formerly owned by the Union Pacific Railroad) and runs approximately 200 miles from St. Louis County to Windsor, Missouri.” The abandoned railway also runs through portions of both Miller and Morgan counties, including both the cities of Eldon and Versailles.

“The eastern 40 miles of the line is still operating under a lease arrangement with Central Midland Railway Corporation (CMR). The western most 145 miles is inactive but also covered by the lease with CMR, which has common carrier obligations for the same,” Ameren went on to say. “At the furthest western end, five miles have been abandoned and sold to Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) for use as a bike trail, and we are finalizing arrangements to transfer the contiguous 42 miles to MDNR for trail use. ADC is taking this action because the MCRR is no longer part of its long-term business strategy.”

Ameren said in the statement that proposals were due by July 31, and RTC decided to make a bid in the nick of time.

RTC, a national non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., creates a national network of trails from former rail lines and connects these corridors with the encouragement of a healthier lifestyle for its users, according to the RTC website. Formed in 1986, RTC has helped preserve 1,600 pathways that form a growing trail system throughout the country.

The Rock Island Line corridor had been on RTC’s “radar” for some time. According to a Aug. 4 blog post from RTC President Keith Laughlin on the organization’s website, a RTC staffer had provided technical assistance to local activists, who are intent upon turning the unused rail line into a trail.

“While we were aware that Ameren … was soliciting bids for its purchase, we thought a local nonprofit organization would submit the bid. On Monday (July 28), we found out that wasn’t going to happen,” Laughlin said in the website blog. “If we didn’t quickly step in to submit an offer to purchase, the corridor would likely be lost for both trail development and the possible future reactivation of the line for rail service.”

The prepared statement from Ameren said, “Bids that were received by the due date are currently being evaluated and a decision is expected by approximately Aug. 31.”

If RTC’s bid is accepted, they hope the land would directly go back to the Missouri State Parks for use as a biking and hiking trial.

RTC is not shouldering the financial burden of the purchase alone. Its bid was structured so the organization was working with two private sector partners to secure purchase of the corridor if Ameren accepts their bid, according to Laughlin’s blog post.

“If all goes as planned, a multi-step transaction will unfold over several months. The critical step in that process will be ensuring that the corridor has been ‘railbanked’ to preserve it intact as a transportation asset for the American people,” Laughlin said in his blog post. “With that step completed, the sale would finalize, and at the moment that we own the property we would donate it to Missouri State Parks for development as a trail. And it could be spectacular!”

Local city and county officials have worked for some time to have the old railroad right-of-way of the Rock Island Line be used for a 2.8-mile biking and hiking trail. Eldon Mayor Ron Bly has said previously that several other Mid-Missouri towns were planning similar projects using the former railroad line, with those projects “left in limbo” when Ameren decided to place the property up for bid in a “closed” sale.

“There is really nothing we can do except call a halt to our plans to create a biking and hiking trail along the old railroad right-of-way,” Bly had said. “I attended a meeting of bike path organizers in Owensville (in Gasconade County). We all came to the same conclusion that we’ll just have to wait and see what happens with this sale, before we decide whether to move forward with our projects or simply give up on the idea of turning the abandoned railroad into a bike path.”

With an acceptance of RTC’s bid, there is a possibility that local communities’ plans for a bike path could move forward.

Reporter Ceil Abbott contributed to this story.


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