Opportunity Knocks in Missouri: RTC Steps In to Save 145-Mile Connection to Katy Trail

Posted 08/04/14 by Keith Laughlin in Taking Action

Photo © Spanish Dilatante

On July 28, the chance to save a 145-mile segment of inactive rail corridor dropped out of the sky. The opportunity to preserve an intact corridor of this length was more common 20 years ago, but rarely happens today.

The corridor in question-which hasn't seen train traffic in about 30 years-is a segment of the old Rock Island Line that run from Windsor to Beaufort, Mo. What makes this doubly exciting is that this corridor intersects the 237-mile Katy Trail in Windsor. With the successful preservation of this corridor, it would not be hard to imagine a world-class trail system of more than 400 miles that would span the entire state of Missouri, connecting St. Louis and Kansas City.

This corridor has long been on our radar. For almost two years, RTC staffer Eric Oberg has been providing technical assistance to local activists who are intent upon turning this unused rail line into a trail. While we were aware that Ameren, the electric utility company that owns the corridor, was soliciting bids for its purchase, we thought a local nonprofit organization would submit the bid.

On Monday afternoon, we found out that wasn't going to happen. 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. Long story short-we kicked into high gear and submitted a bid just before the deadline on Thursday.

I will admit some trepidation when I signed an eight-figure offer to purchase a piece of real estate, particularly when such an action wasn't even remotely contemplated when I arrived at work on Monday morning. (It is important to note that RTC is not shouldering the financial burden of the purchase alone; our pockets aren't that deep. Rather, the deal is structured so that RTC will be working with two private sector partners to secure the purchase the corridor.)

It's impossible to know if our bid will be accepted. But 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. 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!

I am proud of the role that RTC has played in this effort, particularly Andrea Ferster, our general counsel, who is among a handful of national experts on the arcane details of railroad real estate law.

But if the future includes a ribbon cutting on a fantastic new trail, the bulk of the credit will go to those local activists who envisioned all the many benefits that such a trail would bring to their communities. So it is with gratitude that we look forward to a long partnership with Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc. (MoRIT), the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation and Missouri State Parks to make the vision of such a trail a tangible reality.

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