Establishing the Rock Island rail line right-of-way as a recreational trail through Eldon and other communities could be in jeopardy.

Establishing the Rock Island rail line right-of-way as a recreational trail through Eldon and other communities could be in jeopardy.

The Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc. (MORIT), which is leading the project, has learned that Ameren Missouri is seeking private bids to sell the Missouri Central Railroad Company (MCR), which owns most of the 200-mile Rock Island line. As part of the process, Ameren sent a confidential Request for Bid packages to potential purchasers.

Initially, MORIT was left out of the process. But MORIT President Chrysa Niewald said Wednesday that Ameren officials will allow them to participate in the bidding process. In addition, the deadline for submitting bids was extended to July 31.

“We’re still at a disadvantage since other companies have had all the bid information and have been conducting a cost analysis of the trackage since mid-May,” she said.

Niewald remains optimistic that a sale will be in MORIT’s favor.

“We are still hopeful that Ameren will do what is in the best interest of the Rock Island communities and not sell the inactive portion to an out-of-state salvage company that has little concern for the citizens of Missouri,” she said.

A railbanked trail on the corridor would create economic growth opportunities for local communities, she said, and could result in a world-class trail that would intersect the Katy Trail.

“The almost-500 mile loop trail would be a one-of-a-kind attraction,” Niewald said.

Ameren Development Company (ADC), which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Ameren Corporation, is seeking to divest its ownership of the MCRR. A spokesman for the company said the sale is taking place “because the MCRR is no longer part of its long-term business strategy.”

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. The eastern 40 miles of the line are still operating under a lease arrangement with Central Midland Railway Corporation (CMR). The western most 145 miles is inactive but is also covered by the lease with CMR which has common carrier obligations. At the farthest western end, five miles have been abandoned and sold to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) for use as a bike trail. Ameren is finalizing arrangements to transfer a connected 42 miles to MDNR for trail use.

Local impact

Mac McNally, who is heavily involved in Eldon’s Rock Island rail line effort, said the sale of any portion of the rail line would be a setback to the local effort.

“We’re going to continue to work on it,” McNally said of the economic development project. “If Ameren is the owner, or if there’s a new buyer, we hope they recognize the benefits of the project and we can work with them.”

He hopes the public gets involved in the process as well.

“Influence through public discourse is hopeful. If the public speaks up and their voices are heard, that might be the only way we can impact change on this project,” McNally said.

As president of MORIT, Niewald has written letters to Ameren officials and to the chairman of the Missouri Public Service Commission. In the PSC letter, she cited Eldon’s involvement in the project.

“For more than three years, Eldon, Owensville and other communities along the line have been working to acquire permission from Ameren to, at their own expense, convert the right of way from abandoned rail to useful rail,” she said in her letter. “Hundreds of Missourians have joined the movement. The leadership of this effort has all along been under the impression that Ameren was dealing in good faith to allow the project to move forward.”

She noted that in Eldon, Ameren “never made even the slightest effort” to maintain the right of way through the center of town. The overgrown area became a haven for drug use and other criminal activity, Niewald explained. “That was evident,” she said, “when the community undertook to clear and clean a portion of the route through Eldon when 50 dump-truck loads of trash that included significant drug paraphernalia.”

“Residents of towns all along the right of way have expended time, effort and money mowing and maintaining Ameren’s blighted property,” Niewald said in her letter to the PSC.

An 11-member team of the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps spent several weeks clearing brush for the Rock Island Trail in the fall of 2012. They were later joined by several volunteers who removed trash and debris from the section that runs through Eldon.