National organization joins bidding process for Ameren rail line

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COLUMBIA - Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, the nation's largest trail organization, has joined the bidding process for Ameren's Rock Island Trail corridor which would extend across Missouri.

KOMU 8 News reported in early July local action groups, like Missouri Rock Island Trail, Incorporated, wanted to purchase the line from Ameren and create a Katy-Trail-like system of its own.

"Communities around the area have been working individually on this process," said Daphney Partridge, a MORIT board member. "We came together as recently as March to present a unified plan to the owner of the railroad right-of-way, and we were not given the opportunity to participate in the bidding process alone."

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources petitioned Ameren Missouri to extend the bidding process, that petition was granted and closed July 31. 

With three separate agencies at the local, state, and national level, activists hope the purchase of the 145-mile long corridor goes their way.

"The project has recieved alot of public support," Partridge said. "We talked to people all over the state, frankly from even out of the state, that are very interested in this project because they understand the potential value."

"The opportunity to preserve an intact corridor of this length is incredibly rare." said Rails-to-Trails Conservancy President, Keith Laughlin. "Because of it's length and location, this trail would create one of America's primary destinations for bicycle tourism, providing a significant boost to Missouri's economy."

Other states have seen economic growth thanks to significant trail systems. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy says the Great Allegheny Passage in Maryland and Pennsylvania bring in more than $40 million annually. 

A Missouri Department of Natural Resources from 2011 states the Katy-Trail, the inspiration for the potential Rock Island Trail, brought in more than $18 million to the state's economy. Activists say they believe the Rock Island Trail could be of equal economic value.

"We have seen the kind of economic powerhouses that trails of this length become," Laughlin said. "It's not hard to imagine visitors and benefits of a trail system spanning the state of Missouri would bring. Missouri would be the "bucket-list" of cyclists everywhere." 

Rails-to-Trails' bid for the line requires the corridor to be "railbanked." 

Railbank is a legal term, meaning the corridor is held by a public agency or community organization, and made available for public use as a trail. It also facilitates the potential future reactivation of a railroad service by ensureing the rail line property isn't sold and broken into pieces. 

At the furthest western end, five miles of the trail have been abandoned and sold to Missouri Department of Natural Resources, according to Ameren, for use as a bike trail. The compant is also finalizing a deal to transfer 42 miles of the corridor to DNR for trail use.

"By committing to turn the corridor into a rail-trail they are doing a tremendous service to the people of Missouri," Laughlin said. 

Ameren is considering a number of bids for the corridor. Ameren says it is taking the action because the abandoned Missouri Central Railroad is no longer part of its long-term business strategy.

The company is expected to make a decision by August 31, 2014. 


[Editor's Note: This article has been updated to included the latest information available, Ameren is expected to make a decision by Augusy 31 not the 15th.]