Ameren agrees to railbank 145-mile section of Rock Island Trail; 213-mile cross-state Rock Island Trail now moving forward

It’s official! Ameren is going to railbank the additional 145 miles of the Rock Island line stretching from Windsor almost to Washington, where it will eventually connect with the Katy Trail.

With existing Katy Trail and portions of the Rock Island Trail already underway, that means Missouri will have an interconnected statewide trail network of over 450 miles.

Rock Island Trail Map

This is a historical event for Missouri–an announcement whose impact will be as large as when the Katy Trail was first announced in the late 1980s.

“Most states don’t even get the opportunity to create one major cross-state trail,” said Brent Hugh, Executive Director of the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation. “Now Missouri is building two interconnected cross-state trails. It’s just amazing!”

Communities along the route have been working to turn the Rock Island corridor into a statewide trail since the 1980s, when the Rock Island Railroad last saw traffic.

The corridor almost became a trail in 1993. It has taken another 21 years of waiting and work to make the trail a reality.

Kudos to all the communities and partner organizations who worked to make the Rock Island Trail announcement a reality today–including MoRIT–the grass roots coalition of Missouri Rock Island Trail communities, Missouri State Parks, and the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, whose assistance and support this summer was vital in making today’s announcement possible.

What does the future Rock Island Trail network look like?

– 145 miles – Rock Island new addition, Windsor to Beaufort (near Washington) (State Parks)
– 46 miles – Rock Island Pleasant Hill to Windsor – result of the Taum Sauk settlement with Ameren (State Parks)
– ~22 miles – Rock Island Pleasant Hill to KC, currently in negotiations for purchase from Union Pacific (local municipalities)
– TOTAL Rock Island Trail mileage KC-Beaufort would be 213
– The Katy Trail is now 240 miles (per DNR) so total Katy/Rock Island system would be 453 miles

How long will it take before we see a trail on the Rock Island line?

Keep in mind that it took a decade before the majority of the Katy Trail was usable, and Missouri State Parks continues to add sections after more than two decades of use.

With the newly announced 145-mile section of the Rock Island Trail, we are looking at a year or two of legal work to railbank the trail, then another year or two of salvage work to remove rails, ties, and clean up the corridor. We should see selected sections of the trail come online soon after that–perhaps within 1-3 years. It may be a decade or more before we see a complete trail running from Windsor to Beaufort–and then linking up with the Katy Trail near Washington.

Good news is that work in the 46 mile section from Pleasant Hill to Windsor (where it makes a connection with the Katy Trail) is already underway. Legal work there is complete, some salvage work is complete, and even some trail and trailhead construction is complete. We could see portions of the 46-mile segment open soon, and work completed on the 46-mile Katy Trail connection segment finished within a few years.