Posts Tagged ‘Rails to trails’

More Than Likely the Rails Will Become a Trail

February 22, 2021

It doesn’t have to be an either or situation although it probably will wind up being that.

For several years, the former Akron Branch of Pennsylvania Railroad between Hudson and Cuyahoga Falls via Stow and Silver Lake has been fallow, its rails rusting away and the right of way overgrown with weeds and brush.

Now there are competing plans for use of that right of way.

A company called Hudson & Southern Railway wants to revive rail service on the line.

But a group known as Trail Advocates of Summit County instead wants to see it transformed into a hike and bike trail.

In addressing the Hudson City Council late last year, the trail group, which also goes by the name TASCForce, made it clear it adamantly opposed allowing the trail line to be reactivated.

Among other things the group said trains are noisy, dangerous and interfere with traffic.

Trying to sound like populists, the group said a multipurpose trail would be a “higher and better” use of the right of way even though it was built as a railroad.

Allowing the right of way to revert to rail operations would allow “a very few railroad employees and some unpopular businesses entities to benefit,” the trail advocates said.

Some of the rhetoric that TASCForce has espoused is political posturing and yet it also reflects how upper middle class homeowners typically think about railroads.

A railroad is fine so long as it operates somewhere else. It is classic NIMBY thinking.

Lest you think that TASCForce members have a special dislike of trains, they also took aim at “heavy industries that require rail service,” which it called inappropriate for a suburban setting.

H&S has talked about providing service to a bulk transfer station but TASCForce dismisses this as unsuitable for “the office/warehouse/light manufacturing business parks that people expect to find in a residential area.”

Not only does TASCForce dislike the idea of trains in the neighborhood it doesn’t like heavy trucks, either.

Nor does TASCForce like the idea of the rail line being used for rail car storage as H&S has suggested.

TASCForce said suburban homeowners don’t want rail cars sitting in their backyards for months at a time.

What TASCForce is seeking to do is to pressure Akron Metro Regional Transit Authority, which owns much of the rail line, into renouncing the proposal to revive rail service and to instead seek authority from the Federal Transit Administration to allow immediate construction of the hike and bike trail.

Presumably, TASCForce would be opposed to any plan in which there would be a rail line and a trail.

It can be done and has been done in the Akron region. There is a trail alongside an unused former Erie Railroad line in Talmadage.

The Portage Hike and Bike Trail shares space with an active former Erie Rail line between Kent and Brady Lake that has rail service provided by the Akron Barberton Cluster Railway.

The Portage trail is instructive because it is an example of what could be possible with the Hudson-Cuyahoga Falls line.

Rail traffic on the Kent-Brady Lake line is minimal, typically only operating on weekdays.

The situation with the Hudson-Cuyahoga Falls line is complicated. Akron Metro bought the rail line several years ago for potential commuter train use.

That prospect is unlikely to happen which is why the rail line has been inactive all this time.

Although the rail line has been abandoned, it has been railbanked meaning it is being preserved for potential future rail use.

The transit agency apparently has considered ideas in the past about reviving the line for rail use with the H&S proposal the latest proposal.

At one point a dinner train company proposed using the line but it never materialized. At the time, there was fierce opposition to that idea in Silver Lake.

Using the Hudson-Cuyahoga Falls rail line for anything other than rail service would require Akron Metro to get FTA approval.

Valerie Shea, director of planning and strategic development for Akron Metro, told a local newspaper the agency is planning to seek the FTA’s concurrence to use the rail line land and its surrounding right-of-way as a trail.

Trail advocates want to speed up that process and kill the H&S proposal ASAP.

Whether the backers of the H&S would be able to launch freight rail service is uncertain, something TASCForce has noted when it told the Hudson City Council the success of H&S is “far from certain.”

On this point TASForce showed its cards when it said allowing rail service could potentially delay for several years the development of trail on the right of way.

Some Hudson City Council members have spoken in favor of the rail to trail process.

Councilman Skylar Sutton said he wants to “keep a focus on rail-to-trail conversion.”

The city of Stow has won approval for $700,000 in funding to develop a trail.

It is not difficult to see why trail advocates covet converting inactive or lightly used rail line into trails.

They offer a liner piece of land well suited for a trail. You don’t have to mess with the expensive, sometimes difficult, and time-consuming process of land acquisition.

Not every homeowner along an inactive rail line is necessarily onboard with the idea of converting the property into a trail.

Some of those homeowners dislike having a trail in their backyard and have spoken against the idea of passing hikers, joggers and bikers being able to look into their homes.

But hiking and biking trails have become a sort of status symbol for upper middle class suburbs with affluent and well-educated homeowners who are politically connected and know how to manipulate government and regulatory processes.

For that reason alone I’d bet that more likely than not, the land hosting what was Akron’s first rail line is going to wind up being a trail rather than an active railroad.

Rail to Trail Project gets City of Akron Grant

September 22, 2020

This former A&BB elevated line will become part of a trail being developed in Akron.

A rails to trail project has received a $75,000 grant from the Akron City Council to match a grant being offered by the Ohio and Erie Canalway Coalition.

The trail, to be known as the Rubber City Heritage Trail, will use a portion of abandoned Akron & Barberton Belt right of way.

The location extends from near River Street from Third Avenue to Exchange Street.

The right of way is elevated and the Erie Canalway Coalition said the trail will resemble the High Line in New York City that is also built on an abandoned elevated railroad right of way.

The Akron trail will be 10 feet in width and designed to accommodate hiking and biking.

The trail is being designed in phases and will eventually extend from the Middlebury neighborhood to the University of Akron, downtown Akron, Summit Lake and the Kenmore neighborhoods.

Work is expected to take eight to 10 years to complete with the first phase opening in 2022.

The A&BB line once served tire makers Goodyear, BF Goodrich, Firestone and General.

The city now owns the railroad right of way being developed into a trail and  was last used for rail operations more than a decade ago.

STB Backs Cities in Indiana Rail to Trail Dispute

June 4, 2018

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board has given the green light to Hamilton County, Indiana, and the cities of Fishers and Noblesville to rail bank a former Nickel Plate Road branch line, thus paving the way for the rails to be removed and the right of way converted to a trail.

Consequently, the decision dealt a serious blow to efforts to reinstate the Indiana Fair Train, which used the route for several years.

The Fair Train last operated between Fishers and the fairgrounds in 2015.

In a decision reached on May 29, the STB turned aside objections from the Indiana Transportation museum, which had operated the Fair Train, and others that the STB deny the petition to allow rail banking of the line.

The line in question extends 35.5 miles between Indianapolis and Tipton.

Norfolk & Western had leased the line to the Indiana Rail Road in 1985.

N&W successor Norfolk Southern subsequently received regulatory approval in 1991 to abandon the line, but sold it in 1995 to the cities of Fishers and Noblesville. Hamilton County became a joint owner of the line in 2006.

When they purchased the line, city officials in Fishers and Noblesville considered establishing a commuter rail service to downtown Indianapolis.

Although, the commuter service was never established, ITM used the route for the Fair Train and other excursions.

The Hoosier Heritage Port Authority, which oversees the line, revoked in 2016 ITM’s permission to use the tracks, citing safety concerns.

The Port Authority later sought proposals for a tourist train operation north of Noblesville.

Earlier this spring the Port Authority signed a 15-year contract with the Nickel Plate Heritage Railroad to operate a tourist train over 12 miles of track between Noblesville and Atlanta.

Operation of the tourist railroad is expected to begin this summer.

Plans are to convert the right of way between Fishers and Noblesville into a 9-mile trail to be known as the Nickel Plate Trail.

Although city officials in Fishers have indicated that they plan to begin developing the Nickel Plate Trail soon, another hurdle may arise in the form of a lawsuit from adjacent landowners.

An attorney who represents some of those landowners told the Indianapolis Business Journal that those property owners own the land beneath the tracks and any use of the right of way other than as a railroad violates their rights.

The lawsuit, if filed, is likely to seek to force the cities and county to offer the landowners a financial settlement.

ITM expressed disappointment in the STB decision. It and a group known as Save the Nickel Plate had urged the STB to turn down the petition seeking railbanking of the line.

The groups have argued that a trail could be built next to the tracks, but officials in Fishers rejected that idea as unsafe.

Searching for Ghosts of the Erie in Sterling

July 31, 2017

A westbound CSX auto rack train with Union Pacific and BNSF motive power rattles the windows as it passes through Sterling on the New Castle Subdivision.

I can’t help but be reminded of the late Richard Jacobs when I am in or think about Sterling.

It was the last place I saw Jake alive and during the final years of his life he often hung out at Sterling and photographed CSX operations on the New Castle Subdivision.

Jake’s last posting to the Akron Railroad Club blog was about an outing to Sterling in March 2015. He died of cancer the following June.

It was an article written by fellow ARRC officer Marty Surdyk, though, that prompted me to visit Sterling on a Saturday afternoon in early July.

He had written about Sterling in the ARRC Bulletin after he and his brother Robert swung past there earlier this year.

Marty made a few observations about railfanning in Sterling these days, including how it has changed from the old days when RU Tower still guarded the crossing of the Erie Lackawanna (nee Erie) and Baltimore & Ohio mainlines.

The tower is long gone and so is the EL. But Wayne County has converted 6.75 miles of the former Erie right of way between Creston and Rittman into an asphalt hiking and biking trail.

Just off Kauffman Avenue in Sterling is a parking lot for the trail and a former B&O freight house that long-range plans call for converting into a museum.

The trail runs parallel with the CSX line and I wanted to check it out.

So I parked at the station and started walking westward with my camera over my shoulder.

Marty’s article had spoken about there being an opening to photograph trains passing beneath the eastbound home signals for the interlocking.

You have to walk off the trail a short distance, but the view is reasonably open.

CSX crosses Chippewa Creek here and the view from the trail is open, but rather tight.

I walked for about a mile and a half west from Sterling and most of the time a wall of trees obscured the view of the CSX tracks.

There are a few open areas, but only at the grade crossings can you get any significant open space to work with in making photographs.

The first of those is at Eby Road, which has crossing gates protecting the CSX tracks. If you know of a train coming you can stand by the side of the road and have fairly open views.

There are three tracks here one of which is a siding used to store cars although this may be a block swapping location.

Likewise, there are open views at Jordan Road, which is about a half-mile to a mile west.

Here the trail jogs slightly and there are remnants of ballast for the EL tracks. The jog is made to avoid an access road leading to private property.

A short distance west of Jordan Road the trail veers away from the CSX New Castle Sub as it nears Creston.

It is in this vicinity that you can see the Wheeling & Lake Erie’s Brewster Subdivision to the south

I came upon a few other remnants of the Erie during my hike, including a milepost, a whistle post and the concrete foundation of what might have been a signal base. There were also discarded cross ties in various places.

The trail is level and easy to walk. I wished, though, that I had a much smaller and lighter point and shoot digital camera rather than my DSLR.

Marty mentioned various places to eat in Creston. There is also Bradley’s in Sterling and a restaurant in Creston in the former Erie depot in Rittman.

I will have to check out the latter. The last time I saw the ex-Erie depot in Rittman there were still tracks in front of it.

The Akron Barberton Cluster Railway serves a customer in Rittman and operates on the ex-Erie between there and Barberton.

Once you’re done hiking or biking, you can always hang out in the trailhead parking lot in Sterling and wait for trains to come to you on CSX.

One thing hasn’t changed. Traffic on the New Castle Sub remains hit and miss. I spotted four trains in Sterling during my time there, three of them westbounds.

But during the last hour and a half that I was there nothing came past or seemed to be imminent.

If you are out on the trail you might not have much advance warning of an approaching train and will have to hustle to find an opening in the trees to watch and/or photograph it.

Plans are to make into former freight station into a museum.

Joggers and bikers are 225 miles from Salamanca, New York.

Something the railroad left behind when pulling up the tracks.

A remnant of CSX stands outside the former B&O freight station in Sterling.

A trio of silos between a pair of tank cars.

If a CSX train comes as you’re out on the trail you might have to hustle to get to an open area to watch it.

Looking west at Eby Road.

An eastbound manifest freight passes a cut of cars in the siding as it approaches Eby Road.

Preserving Heritage Rail Lines May Involve Overcoming ‘More Beneficial Use’ Arguments

April 11, 2017

Scott Fadness is not a popular person these days among railroad advocates in Indiana.

The mayor of Fishers, Indiana, favors ripping out a former Nickel Plate Road branch line that runs through his city to Indianapolis that until 2015 hosted excursions operated by the Indiana Transportation Museum, including its popular Fairtrain to the Indiana State Fair.

In place of the now dormant rail line, which is owned by a public entity, would be a hiking and biking trail.

ITM and other rail supporters have proposed building the trail alongside the rail line.

But Fadness has rejected that due to safety concerns, saying he didn’t think it would be wise for trail users to be within several feet of a locomotive.

It is easy for railroad advocates to dismiss Fadness as ignorant or to proclaim his position as ludicrous as an ITM spokesman did.

Indeed, those accusations probably are true. But overcoming the beliefs of officials such as Mayor Fadness will not be easy.

He may not be a friend of rail preservation, but it could be a mistake to consider him an adversary. He is someone who needs to be won over.

If anything, railroad advocates need to listen carefully to public officials such as Mayor Fadness. You can’t overcome opposition if you don’t understand it.

Rails and trails can and do co-exist. The Rails to Trails Conservancy says there are 1,600 trails in 41 states that are located next to a railroad line.

Yet the Conservancy said there are 10 times more trails that have been built on a former railroad right of way.

As a result more people think trail without rails than they do trail with rails because the former is most likely to be what they have seen and experienced.

One of those trails without rails is a couple miles west of the ex-NKP line on the right of way of the former Monon Railroad line to Indianapolis.

Fadness wants to emulate that trail and has adopted the type of “more beneficial uses of the property” worldview that worries Jim Porterfield, the director of the Center for Railway Tourism at Davis & Elkins College in West Virginia.

Porterfield was quoted in the May 2017 issue of Trains magazine as warning that heritage railroads are at risk when a community views them as entertainment rather than historical venues.

Porterfield told Trains that the typical arguments for displacing heritage rail lines include, “year round versus seasonal use, a greater distribution of income to local businesses, more people present, and higher property values along a trail versus a rail line.”

By one estimate, the ex-NKP line in Indianapolis needs $9 million in repairs to bring rail service back. A trail can be built for much less than that.

Mayor Fadness sees the situation as a simple cost-benefit analysis that weights heavily in favor of a trail.

Every rails to trail dispute has its own circumstances. In the case of the ex-NKP rail line, there has been internal turmoil within the past year at ITM that has harmed its credibility.

The location of the line in an affluent area of suburban Indianapolis also works against it. Such areas are a fertile ground for NIMBY opponents who know how to work the political system.

Some at ITM have also spoken about extending the ex-NKP to downtown Indianapolis and offering passenger trains there.

There may be some merit to that vision, but it would cost millions if not billions, to replace track that was removed years ago.

People who do not “love” railroads will laugh off such proposals as unrealistic given the existing available resources.

Mayor Fadness may have his mind made up and time is not working in favor of those who want to keep the ex-NKP branch intact.

If you are going to persuade public officials such as Mayor Fadness, you need to show him that rails and trails can co-exist. And you need to convince him on his terms, not those of a railfan who tends to believe that every foot of rail should be preserved.

The question is whether the railroad advocates have the skills and willingness needed to make the case for rail and trail.

Indiana Rail Advocates Want Rails and Trail on Former Nickel Plate Branch Line in Indianapolis

March 24, 2017

Hamilton County (Indiana) officials are rejecting a proposal to retain a former Nickel Plate Road branch line that has been used in recent years by the Indiana Fairtrain.

Instead, they want to move forward with their plans to remove the rails and make the right of way a 9.2-mile paved hiking and biking trail.

The Indiana Transportation Museum, which operated the Fairtrain through 2015, had proposed building the trail next to the tracks.

However, Fisher Mayor Scott Fadness rejected that idea, saying that the right of way is not wide enough for rails and a trail to co-exist.

Fadness said the right of way is 50 feet and to have both rails and a trail would require 120 feet.

The mayor also cited safety concerns.

“I do not believe from what my engineers have told me that within our current right of way bounds it would be safe to put a trail next to a rail line,” Fadness said. “As a father of 2-year-old, the idea of putting a trail within several feet of a locomotive doesn’t sound like a logical solution from my perspective.”

Some rail proponents left a recent public meeting a Fishers City Hall that was devoted to the trail idea feeling disappointed.

“I thought it was presented as an open discussion between a rail and trail and the whole purpose of the meeting is strictly trail,” said Wilbur Sutton, who wants the tracks retained.

An online petition seeking to preserve the rail line has thus far generated more than 4,300 signatures.

ITM official John McNichols disagrees with the mayor’s safety concerns and believes the right of way is large enough to support a trail and the tracks.

“It’s ludicrous,” McNichols said. “We don’t know where they got that. No trail in the county needs that kind of right away unless it’s a park.”

However, on the day of the public hearing, Fadness said the tracks and trail idea will not be considered.

Fishers, Noblesville and the Hamilton County Commissioners said in February they planned to launch a $9.3 million project to convert the rail line to a trail that they said would be similar to a nearby trail built on the former right of way of the Monon Railroad.

Supporters of the proposed Nickel Plate Trail say that rehabilitating the railroad tracks for passenger service would cost up to $5 million.

Last year the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority, which oversees the rail line, would not allow ITM to provide excursion service on the route, saying that it had safety concerns.

In 2015, the last year that the Fairtrain operated, it generated $700,000 in revenue and was ridden by more than 10,000 passengers.

ITM would like to see the rail line extended beyond 10th Street in Indianapolis, where it now ends, to Union Station.

That would enable service such as the Fairtrain to serve Bankers Life Fieldhouse – home of the Indiana Pacers NBA team – and Lucas Oil Stadium, the home of the Indianapolis Colts NFL team.

McNichols estimates it would cost $1.5 million for that extension. At one time the NKP line did extend to Union Station, but those tracks were removed many years ago.

ITM and the Port Authority have been in conflict since last year over the condition of the rail line.

The Port Authority commissioned an inspection of the tracks that found they needed at least $3.7 million, but potentially up to $5 million, in repairs. Repairing the tracks between Fishers and the fairgrounds would cost more than $2 million, it said.

But ITM counters that as recently as June 2016 the Federal Railroad Administration said the line was safe for passenger service, although it would be limited to slow speeds.

“We’re certainly hopeful that enough community support can actually sway the officials,” McNichols said about his group’s proposal to retain the rails next to the trail.

He noted that there are trails next to the rail line in some places in Hamilton County, including at the Riverwalk Depot in Noblesville.

Following this week’s meetings, Fishers, Noblesville, and Hamilton County officials will decide whether to pursue funding for the Nickel Plate Trail.

If the rails are removed, ITM said it might move its railroad rolling stock and locomotives to another location within Indiana for excursion service.

At one point, some Hamilton County officials had raised the prospect that ITM could continue to use the former NKP line for excursion service between Noblesville and Tipton.

ITM has operated excursions on that segment of the route in past years.

Fishers Mayor Fadness sees the issue as a cost-benefit matter. A trail would get more use than a set of railroad tracks.

“It’s going to be $9 million for a trail that you [could] use 365 days a year,” he said. “Far more than 40,000 people would be able to utilize that. From a cost-benefit perspective, it’s very clear to me what the right policy decision is.”

The Rails to Trails Conservancy said there are more than 1,660 rails-with-trails in 41 states, but 10 times as many trail-only corridors on former rail right of ways.

In the meantime, ITM posted a statement on its website saying that it has prepared a master plan that calls for increased excursions and events “to maximize economic and cultural benefit.”

“With downtown developments carrying the Nickel Plate theme, the railroad as a historical, tourism-oriented entity has the capacity to continually enrich the area’s market appeal and economic footprint. Studies have shown ITM is one of the top attractions in Hamilton County,” the statement said.

Indiana Rail Line May Become Trail

March 1, 2017

Two Indiana communities want to convert part of a rail line once used by the Indiana Fairtrain into a hiking and biking trail.

The cities of Fishers and Noblesville have proposed pulling up 9.2 miles of rails of the former Nickel Plate Road branch line and creating a 14-foot wide trail.

IndianaThrough 2015, the tracks hosted the Fairtrain and other excursions of the Indiana Transportation Museum.

The Hoosier Heritage Port Authority, which owns the rail line, refused to allow ITM to use the tracks last year after an inspection found that it needed $5 million in repairs.

That came on the heels of allegations leveled by a group of former museum volunteers about financial improprieties at the museum and safety issues.

Although the Federal Railroad Administration and the office of the Indiana attorney general have conducted investigations, no charges have been filed.

The Port Authority recently said it is considering issuing a call for proposals to continue providing rail service on the line.

Representatives of Fishers, Noblesville and Hamilton County manage the Port Authority.

The rails would remain in place north of Noblesville and the portion of the trail south of there would be rail banked. The line extends from Indianapolis to Tipton, Indiana, but has no active connections to another railroad and no trains now operate on the route.

The next steps in converting the rail line to a trail will include soliciting public comment, including holding a hearing.

The cities would then go through the rail to trail administrative process, which could take between six to 12 months.

Local officials say the conversion would cost about $9.3 million.

There’s a Reason For This Square Shape

December 14, 2016

gorge-power-x

If this utility line structure looks a little odd, there is a reason for that.

It was designed to straddle a railroad track holding hopper cars of coal that had been delivered to a nearby power plant. The spur came off the Pennsylvania Railroad, crossed Front Street in Akron and then went for a short distance along the Cuyahoga River.

Today that railroad spur and the power plant are gone, but the utility line still stands in the Gorge Metropark straddling the border of Akron and Cuyahoga Falls. The former railroad right of way is a trail in the park.

Many, if not most, people who walk this trail probably don’t know why this support structure is shaped as it is. I might not have known either if Roger Durfee had not explained it to me.

Article and Photograph by Craig Sanders

Sanders Photo Published in Rails to Trails Mag

September 29, 2016

A photograph made by Akron Railroad Club President Craig Sanders has been published in the Fall 2016 issue of Rails to Trails magazine.

ARRC logoThe image of the Portage Hike and Bike trail is used to illustrate a story about the Industrial Heartland Trails Network, a collection of nearly three dozen pathways featuring scenic wilderness, dramatic railroad tunnels and trestles, and trail towns and historical sites from the birthplace of America’s Industrial Revolution.

The system has 1,450 miles of trails in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and New York.

The article has been posted online at:

http://www.railstotrails.org/trailblog/2016/september/13/a-view-from-the-industrial-heartland-trails-network/

Louisville, Southern Indiana Trail Advocates Want to Use K&I Bridge, But NS Just Keeps Saying ‘No’

February 5, 2016

A Louisville, Kentucky, group is making another push to prod Norfolk Southern into opening the K&I Bridge to hikers and bikers.

Greater Louisville, Inc., wants the bridge to serve as a link in a 100-mile loop trail around the Louisville metropolitan area.

The bridge would connect the Kentucky and Indiana shores of the Ohio River as part of a 13-mile trail that is part of that loop.

NS logo 2But despite more a decade of lobbying by public officials on both sides of the river, NS has refused to allow the K&I bridge to be used as part of a trail.

The bridge spans the river between New Albany, Indiana; and the Portland neighborhood of Louisville.

At one time, it was used by the Monon, Baltimore & Ohio, and the Southern. Formally known as the Kentucky and Indiana Terminal Bridge, it opened in 1912 .

Until 1979 the bridge also was used for vehicular traffic. It was used for interurban railway traffic until 1946. The bridge still has a lane used by railroad motor vehicles.

GLI said it will seek to “identify impediments, incentives and other remedies to permit pedestrians back on the K&I bridge, allowing full completion of a pedestrian loop.”

Louisville officials have noted that the Big Four Bridge, which is no longer used for railroad traffic, has been converted to pedestrian use.

The K&I Bridge would connect the Kentuckiana River Trail in Louisville and the Ohio River Greenway in Clark and Floyd counties in Indiana.

But NS doesn’t want to see pedestrians on the K&I Bridge. “Norfolk Southern’s K& I Bridge exists today for a single purpose — to provide safe transport for freight trains over the Ohio River,” NS spokesman David Pidgeon said in a statement. “NS generally does not support recreational trails next to active rail lines because of serious safety concerns, and we remain focused on providing safe, efficient and reliable freight transportation to our customers in Louisville and southern Indiana.”

Pidgeon noted that some trains using the bridge carry hazmat shipments. “We not only have safety concerns about public access along active right-of-way but also serious, prohibitive concerns about security and liability.” he said.

Supporters of using the K&I bridge for pedestrian traffic counter that the laws of Kentucky and Indiana generally protect property owners if someone is injured while using a recreational trail.

After active lobbying of NS failed, some Louisville officials considered using eminent domain to acquire an easement on the portion of the bridge not being used.

Kentucky public officials even battled with NS in 2008 over whether the bridge could be condemned

Assistant Jefferson County Attorney William T. Warner argued in a letter that city law allowed that course of action.

But an NS attorney, Thomas W. Ambler, responded that federal law prohibits any condemnation.

In the meantime, trails continue to open in Louisville and Southern Indiana, including one in 2013 that goes across the Big Four Bridge.

That trail has attracted more than 2 million visitors and 100,000 bicycles.

Two more miles of the Greenway will be built in Indiana this year, including a section in New Albany that will end near the north portral to the K&I Bridge.

Trail advocates say that converting the K&I to pedestrian access would be less costly than was the case with the Big Four Bridge, which required elevated access ramps. The K&I Bridge is at street level.

Converting the K&I Bridge to pedestrian use is “not a priority” for One Southern Indiana, the chamber of commerce for Clark and Floyd counties. Nor is the group including that on its advocacy agenda.

Although Wendy Dant Chesser, the chamber’s president and CEO, would like to see a loop across the river completed, she said NS owns the bridge.

“We have to approach this as any public project that would want access to private property,” she said. “So it has to be done with respect and the interest of the owner in mind.”

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy said that numerous trails exist next to active railroad routes. The number of such trails rose by 260 percent between 2000 and 2013.

Large railroads usually oppose trails next to their right of way, but some smaller railroads have been more receptive to the idea.

One example of a trail sharing a bridge with a railroad is the Harahan Bridge over the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tennessee, where a pedestrian trail will open later this year.

Bridge owner Union Pacific was initially opposed to allowing a trail on the bridge, but agreed after trail architects included a fence that can’t be climbed and which protects cyclists and walkers from any debris from passing trains.

NS also operates rail lines next to trails, including the Schuylkill River Trail between Philadelphia and Pottsville, Pennsylvania.

Robert Folwell, trails project manager for the Schuylkill River Greenway Association, said he’s is unaware of any safety concerns being raised by NS.

Folwell said the trail is about 20 feet from the NS tracks in some places and separated by a chain-link fence.

NS spokesman Pidgeon would not discuss safety issues pertaining to NS lines next to mixed-use trails nor would he comment on research by Rails-to-Trails that identified only one death in recent decades involving a person using a trail adjacent to railroad tracks.

The U.S. Department of Transportation did a study that found one case of a claim involving a rail-with-trail.

“The railroad was held harmless from any liability for the accident through the terms of its indemnification agreement,” the report says.

Pidgeon did say that through last October 11 people had been killed in Indiana, and 10 in Kentucky, while trespassing on railroad property in 2015.

Bill Hughes, a former NS employee who worked with grade crossing and trespassing matters while at the railroad, speculated that the NS opposition to sharing the K&I Bridge with a trail is rooted in its desire to avoid lawsuits involving people who are injured or killed while trespassing.

Hughes is familiar with the K&I Bridge proposal and believes the project could satisfy the railroad’s safety concerns if there is a fence, regular safety patrols and emergency telephones placed on the bridge.

“This is a doable project,” he said. “It was when I worked for them, and it still is.”