Kirkwood to Carondelet

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  • States: Missouri   
  • Railroads: MP, UP   

The Kirkwood Cut-off

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Looking south in Kirkwood near the beginning of the Kirkwood Cut-off. Photo by Brian Contestabile.

This is a southeast to northwest 14-mile branch line built around 1920 - 1930 as a "release valve" for the Missouri Pacific (now Union Pacific) east-west main line out of St. Louis, MO to Kansas City, MO. The main cuts almost right through the middle of St. Louis City and the outer suburbs (known collectively as St. Louis County), and there were probably more grade crossings than there is now, which are still quite a few.

In the early part of the century, trains on the main into St. Louis had to wait up to 6 hours before entering the city, blocking many of these at-grade crossings. The city leaders at the time therefore gathered and asked/requested the MP to build an additional line to route trains to the south and around St. Louis to relieve this rail congestion. It was decided that this "release-valve" line would begin in the town of Kirkwood, MO, about 7 miles to the west of St. Louis (thus the nickname "Kirkwood Cut-off"), and snake its way south around the city, where it would enter into the extreme south end of the city of St. Louis and into the neighborhood know as Carondolet, where it would hook up, by way of a wye, with the north-south line of the MP out of St. Louis. The line was finished around 1930, and was used as a freight train by-pass until the early 1990s.

Of note is the fact that this line never saw passenger rail traffic except once, when a troop train about 1943 was loaded at Jefferson Barracks, a former army base in south St. Louis, and headed northwest on the branch line to the east-west MP main and out west to the Pacific rim. By 1992, traffic on the line had diminished to only a few industries that were being served along the route, so the line was cut in the middle and roughly a 6 to 8 mile section was made into Grant's Trail. (Grant's Farm, a tourist attraction after General Grant who lived there for a time, is along a 1 mile section of the line/trail, hence the connection.) About 2.5 miles was then left to the north and about 3.5 miles to the south. The north end survived until about 1999, when the BNSF railroad cut the line in Kirkwood where it crossed the BNSF's east-west double main by a double diamond about half a mile after it leaves the UP main (the few industry sidings along this 2.5 mile section were no longer being served by that time). This two-mile section, with no connection on either end, remarkably stayed intact for almost another two years, until 2001 when the tracks were taken up and plans to extend the trail were made. The trail extension, however, has hit a snag due to financial dealings, but will probably be completed soon.

What is left of the line is a empty half-mile section to the north, sometime used to store MOW equipment, and the 3 mile section to the south, which is still in use to serve a recycling plant at the end of the line, which receives about 5 boxcars at a time.

Thanks to Brian Contestabile for contributing information about this route.

Correction and Update: Correction - This line's purpose, in addition to being a "release-valve," actually also ended at the Mississippi River in the south St. Louis, MO neighborhood of Carondelet during the earlier part of the 20th century and served as a point for a rail-car ferry service directly across the Mississippi to Illinois and the area/town of East Carondelet, Il. Update - Grant's Trail, the name of the trail built on the ROW, has been completed an additional 2 miles to the north to the crossing with the BNSF (though the trail ends before the BNSF tracks). The Carondelet Branch/Kirkwood-Cutoff picks up on the other side of the BNSF tracks, were UP has left the remaining 1/3 or so mile of track in place to serve as a staging ground for MOW equipment. A sign at the trail-head shows a map of the trail with "Future Expansion" over this remaining portion in use, so maybe we'll see a very short "rail with trail" segment!

Brian Contestabile
St. Louis, MO
2/23/2009

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Howdy! That signal that protected the diamonds was a L&W signal. I currently have it installed in my front yard. I won it from a bet with a signal maintainer.

http://rrsignalpix.com/zachgcollection.html

Zachary G.
Union, MO
3/29/2009

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There are some interesting tid-bits about where this line starts and where it ends in the city.

The line starts from what appears to be an old subway tunnel [GPS: 38.638999, -90.194086 ] and runs north across Cass Ave. and onto Hadley (where the electric-poles for power are still visible across the street in some areas) then diverts to the right just past Howard Street where there is at least 1 lone electric power pole left on the street. [GPS: 38.643488, -90.192033]

The line continues into a small thicket [GPS: 38.644311, -90.191384] where it swings behind the tractor-trailer parking lot off Howard. The line continues on to the abandoned raised tracks over 11th and Tyler Street [GPS: 38.645225, -90.190719] which further along [GPS:38.646171, -90.190241] the line widened up. Beyond here it's missing a few sectional pieces allowing you to see the bare frame work. [GPS:38.646664, -90.190215] From here it crosses Madison, Clifton, Monroe, and 9th Streets before turning to the east and heading across N. Broadway parallel to N. Market until just past 1st Street [GPS: 38.650989, -90.186307] it begins to cross over the Trash Yard [GPS: 38.652288, -90.184483] near the St Louis River Front Trail [GPS: 38.653495, -90.184338] where it terminates into one of the branches of the partially unused Main Line [GPS: 38.654450, -90.184915].

Its truly a sight to see and would be nice if they would restore it to partial or full use. As a side note St Louis is also home to the famously partially abandoned MacArthur Bridge where the city sold it's bottom deck to the railroad (which is in very good shape still) [GPS: +38.61491, -90.18348]

Daneil Hopkins
York, PA
6/29/2010

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Its sad this line is in such unused condition, however some part of the tracks were recently recycled into a road near the new McKinley Bridge and runs along side Wharf Street to Branch, this is a nice way of turning abandoned structure into something everyone can use.

Bryce Roberts
Brimmingham, AL
6/29/2010

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The Carondelet Sub (as it was also known) was built in 1872. It was built across the Dent-Grant farm (known as White Haven) while U.S. Grant was President. There is a letter extent from the President to his land-manager authorizing the railroad to cross his family's land.

Richard Gilpin
St. Louis, MO
8/8/2010

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Has anyone heard about the re-opening of this line if the city ever decides to build choteau lake downtown? Is this absolutely unfeasable?

Also does anyone have pictures of this line in use? I remember as a kid sitting by grants farm watching the trains rumble across Gravois road. I am having a dandy of a time finding pics from the line.

Sean
St. Louis, MO
12/14/2010

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Sean, the line was mothballed before I really started taking pictures & video, but I too have fond memories of trains roaring up the branch from my Aunt Mary's back yard in Grantwood Village in the 1980s. I do, however, have several photos and home videos of UP operations on the north end of the branch between Watson Rd. and Kirkwood Jct. until local service on that segment ended in 1999. A few of the pics I have uploaded have been sent to this site's owner for posting. UP went forward with the abandonment after one of the two remaining shippers, Grief Bros., closed it's plant which was just north of the BNSF diamond in Kirkwood. Grief had received service via the Jeff City local, usually on Mondays and Fridays. Von Hoffman Press, the last remaining customer, protested the abandonment, but its petition was quickly denied by the STB as the little business it generated could not cover the cost of continued operation of the stubbed line. Whether related to the abandonment or not, shortly after the tracks were pulled up, Von Hoffman closed its Crestwood plant. Note that several years after the line's abandonment, UP began serving the AmerenUE Meramec plant on the DeSoto Sub - a move which, without the branch, requires the coal trains to meander through heavy congestion in downtown St. Louis and then make a slow trip down an industrial lead to reach the plant. If the branch was to be restored, service to Meramec would be greatly improved. Of course the line isn't perfect, with a steep grade in Crestwood going westbound (but would not be an issue for loaded coal trains, which are eastbound) and numerous grade crossings with several major thoroughfares. However, the rumor mill really got going about 8 years ago when UP surveyors were present walking Grant's Trail. The Webster-Kirkwood Times did a story on their presence, and the company's spokesman said they were indeed studying future rail use but had no immediate plans. UP still owns the R-O-W and leases it to TrailNet, but it's anyone's guess as to the likelihood of service returning as nobody has heard anything since. I sincerely doubt Choteau Lake will ever become a reality given the lack of any alternative routes for major rail traffic through the city.

Scott
Saint Louis, MO
2/14/2011

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Scott,

Thanks for adding the pictures of the line in action! I live literally 2 blocks from the line now, but I lived in South St. Louis in the 80's as a kid and never got to see the line in action, though I remember crossing the line at Watson on the way to Crestwood Mall with my parents, but never getting stopped by a train. Same goes for the Gravois crossing at Grant's Farm. So I really feel like I missed out and wish I could go back to see one struggle up the Crestwood hill towards Kirkwood Junction!

Brian

Brian
Crestwood, MO
4/20/2011

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I vividly remember seeing several trains in several locations along this line. I actually moved out of STL (Affton) 1-2 years after most of the line was abandoned.

The area where I saw the most trains was along the Affton Athletic Association stretch and also getting stopped by a few trains at the Union Road crossing. One note about that crossing, this was the only crossing along the entire stretch that had gates; and I think it took a collision in the late '70s, early '80s, for gates to be installed there. Yes, Bayless Road has gates also (and it's still a somewhat active crossing today) but I'm referring to the stretch that is now Grant's Trail.

It just baffled me on why this line was abandoned. You'd think they would still want to ease congestion along the main UP line as it still sees over two dozen trains per day and most don't move very quickly.

Mike
Westminster, CO
6/17/2011

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I recall hearing the City of Crestwood sued Mopac/UP because the long freight trains would stop & frequently block the crossings at Big Bend,Sappington,Watson & Pardee Rds. The blockages would keep emergency vehicles from getting through & create traffic jams. I believe trains heading towards Kirkwood had to stop & wait for clearance to cross the Frisco/BNSF diamond or to enter the Mopac/UP mainline. While living in Lakeshire, the trains would stop in a long section of track where there were no crossings.

Gary
Crestwood, MO
10/9/2014

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I recall hearing the City of Crestwood sued Mopac/UP because the long freight trains would stop & frequently block the crossings at Big Bend,Sappington,Watson & Pardee Rds. The blockages would keep emergency vehicles from getting through & create traffic jams. I believe trains heading towards Kirkwood had to stop & wait for clearance to cross the Frisco/BNSF diamond or to enter the Mopac/UP mainline. When I lived in Lakeshire in '78-"80, the trains would stop in a long section of track where there were no crossings. From the late '60's through the mid '70's, all I ever saw was a small switch engine pulling a few cars to service the business customers in Crestwood. I walked the tracks many times from Sappington Rd to the junction with the Mopac mainline Kirkwood.

Gary
Crestwood, MO
10/9/2014

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I recall hearing the City of Crestwood sued Mopac/UP because the long freight trains would stop & frequently block the crossings at Big Bend,Sappington,Watson & Pardee Rds. The blockages would keep emergency vehicles from getting through & create traffic jams. I believe trains heading towards Kirkwood had to stop & wait for clearance to cross the Frisco/BNSF diamond or to enter the Mopac/UP mainline. When I lived in Lakeshire in '78-"80, the trains would stop in a long section of track where there were no crossings. From the late '60's through the mid '70's, all I ever saw was a small switch engine pulling a few cars to service the business customers in Crestwood.In the late '70's they started running full length freight trains on this branch. I walked the tracks many times from Sappington Rd to the junction with the Mopac mainline in Kirkwood.

Gary
Crestwood, MO
10/9/2014

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I was a "Hoghead" briefly on the branch ending in 84. The crossing at Crestwood was the reason we usually got in trouble with the police. They would board and threaten with a ticket if we refused to move. Eventually, we could only block the intersection for no longer than five minutes, if we were stopped. To get around that we would stop at old Hwy. 21 then pull up to "peek" at the signal (interlock) at Kirkwood and then shove back, always moving and not violating any agreements. When we received radio communication that we "MAY" have a clear signal at the interlock (controlled by FRISCO)then we proceeded up the hill all the way. Once at 3:00 AM while slowly creeping up to check the signal at Frisco, I was crossing Watson rd.at Crestwood and had four "Big Jacks" SD40-2s' and they were so dirty the blue appeared very black. The crossing was dark with little light, the street was asphalt, and the units were stretched well past both sides of the crossing. I watched as a car coming, at a high rate of speed, East on Watson Rd failed to recognize the crossing was occupied. He was going to slalom through the gap in the gates! Nothing I could do but blow the whistle and shut down the throttle and hope. Luckily, he woke from his daydream or drunkenness and his car skidded to a stop just short of a fuel tank holding 4,500 gallons of diesel. Had he hit me I would still be filling out paperwork. I now live in Lakeshire at the apartments. I also was raised in Lakeshire for 34 years, off and on, while attending schools, military, and divorces. My X-wife used to bring me sandwiches years ago when I lived in a different appt. right on the tracks while I waited at old Hwy. 21 for the signal at Kirkwood when it was time to head west. The head end crew was always well fed when she was home. I miss the branch. Sorry guys/gals I never took any pictures. Wish I had---

Note:We couldn't whistle at any of those crossings unless someone was oblivious of our approach. Also a little known fact is usually the Hoghead was the only one of the crew who stayed awake!

Bill F.
Lakeshire, MO
7/31/2015

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