Railroad Drops Plans To Acquire Rail Line

The Keokuk Junction Railway, a subsidiary of Peoria, IL-based Pioneer Railcorp, has filed a Notice of Withdrawal with the Surface Transportation Board regarding its plans to acquire and operate Union Pacific’s dormant Elm Industrial Lead. Trail proponents have long sought to turn this line, which runs from Peoria west to Middle Grove, into a recreation trail.

It looks like they’ll get their way.

KJRY considered the line viable to market to prospective users only if it tied to their existing mainline at Canton (via an also-dormant BNSF branchline) instead of operating it as a separate line, which would require the restoration of the BNSF crossing and UP connection along Kickapoo Creek Road just south of Harmon Highway. Such would require the shortline to seek trackage rights on UP into Peoria, a scenario beset with complications. Therefore, a deal to acquire track between Dunfermline and Farmington from BNSF Railway was necessary to make the UP line viable, but one party to this proposed transaction has been slow to agree to terms.

The prospects for restoring at least part of this line to service excited railfans, since it is the sole Illinois remnant of the Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway, which was acquired by the Chicago & North Western Railway in 1960. Now that such plans have ended, a recreational trail will likely replace this venerable railroad that dates back to November 1881.

That KJRY has given up on this line makes one militant trail proponent appear ridiculous. Blogger, and former Journal Star employee, Elaine Hopkins commented this way on a September 24 Journal Star story :

Trails are a great recreational resource, and worth way more than they cost to build. But beware: I believe Keokuk Junction Railway Co. is another of Guy Brenkman’s companies like Pioneer Rail Corp. He buys up defunct lines and holds them so no trail can be built. Meanwhile they decay and become dangerous eyesores. Stop him before it’s too late.

Let me correct Ms. Hopkins – Pioneer has never acquired a defunct rail line in its 20-year history and has now deemed this line unviable, freeing it up for trail use. What do you say to that, Ms. Hopkins?

Truth be told, I don’t expect a Farmington-to-Peoria trail anytime soon. The issue will probably be drawn out for months if not years, not due to railroad interests, but rather opposition from landowners and residents of Hanna City, Trivoli and Farmington. There is also the issue of how much a recreational trail will cost. At 20 miles, at least $10-15 million will be needed for construction. I don’t want my tax monies to go to something with such little return on investment, and I know I’m not alone. If Peoria County and local communities were smart, they would have supported KJRY’s acquisition, planned for an industrial park or two and saved the taxpayer’s their money.

But that would make too much sense.

– David P. Jordan