Saint Louis to Kansas City

The Saint Louis Subdivision

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Map submitted by Matt Roberds, Greg Harrison.

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An eastward view of the Rock Island's abandoned Saint Louis Subdivision as seen in Gerald, MO. Photo by Brian Contestabile, 2012.

This line started out as the Saint Louis, Kansas City and Colorado Railroad, who built the first vestige of the line between Saint Louis and Union in 1887. The intent was to build a line into Colorado via Kansas City. By 1901, the StLKC&C had further completed their line through Gerald and Owensville to Bland.

Meanwhile, the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad was interested in extending their empire westward from Saint Louis to Kansas City, and watched the development of the StLKC&C with a keen interest. They purchased the StLKC&C ourtight in 1902, and continued extending the line into Eldon (which would eventually become the subdivision's base of operations, complete with a roundhouse and large yard), Versailles, and Windsor (and a connection with the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad there) in 1904. Trackage rights were utilized over the M-K-T to allow the Rock Island access into Kansas City from Windsor; the Rock Island finally completed their own line into Kansas City (via Pleasant Hill, Lee's Summit and Raytown) in 1905. The line was known as the Rock Island's Saint Louis Subdivision.

Despite connecting two of the nation's largest railroad-centric cities, the Rock Island's line failed to meet expected revenue, and ultimately was downgraded into secondary status. The Rock Island was a late-comer to the Saint Louis-Kansas City corridor, which had already been previously connected by four other railroads, so the Rock struggled to find its piece of the pie in a saturated market. Moreover, the line itself was costly to maintain, with a number of tunnels and high bridges required to cross Missouri's rugged terrain in and around the Ozark Mountains region.

Passenger service, which at the end consisted of only two twice-daily motor cars, called "doodlebugs" (each of which left Kansas City and Saint Louis, respectively, and met in Eldon), ceased on April 11, 1959. As the financial woes of the Rock Island continued on their downward pace, maintenance of the line suffered.

The Rock Island entered its 3rd and final bankruptcy in 1975. In an effort to continue service along the route, the Interstate Commerce Commission directed the Kansas City Terminal Railway to oversee the line's operation while the Rock Island was under an attempted reorganization. When it was decided the Rock Island could not be reorganized successfully, the Kansas City Terminal Railway continued their operations indefinitely, until the Saint Louis-Southwestern Railroad, a.k.a the Cotton Belt Railroad, took over. However, before long, the Cotton Belt diverted all of their traffic to the former Missouri Pacific mainline, acquired as part of the UP-MP merger. The Cotton Belt continued local service over the eastern portion of the ex-Rock Island line, with the western portion (between Belle and Kansas City) laying unused. Traffic was scaled back to Owensville in the mid-1980s, with additional scaling back to Union in 1995. Even so, the majority of traffic on the line occurred in Saint Louis proper, with only a few trains sent out to Union on an as-needed basis. When subsequent owner Union Pacific attempted to abandon the line west out of Saint Louis, local opposition resisted, saving the line from the chopping block.

Today, some of the right-of-way is owned by a local coal company, which is served by a parallel Union Pacific route; the corridor lays dormant, awaiting a potential decision of the coal company to institute their own service over the line. In addition, the portion of the route west out of Saint Louis into Union is now served by the Midland Central Railroad. Otherwise, the remainder of the former corridor remains, either abandoned or out-of-service, in what is probably one of the longest continuous disused rights-of-way in the country.

Thanks to Brian Contestabile for contributing information about this route.

This line while it hasn't seen a train since around 1981 is still part of Union Pacific and Missouri Central (owned by Ameren Electric). UP owns the track from Leed's Junction to Pleasant Hill, they purchased it as a way around the steep grade in Independence on the old MoPac line but have never done anything with it. (Oddly enough, they bought it from SSW/SP who had purchased the line from RI and also never ran a train on it.) Ameren owns the rest of the line and as part of their settlement with the state of Missouri for their negligence in the Taum Sauk reservoir collapse. (On November 28, 2007, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and Ameren Corporation announced a settlement to the Taum Sauk reservoir collapse, which "includes an agreement for Ameren to lease 46 miles of its Rock Island Railroad to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to connect the Katy Trail from the town of Windsor to Pleasant Hill.") The line connects with the existing trail at Windsor and will run to Pleasant Hill and connect with a series of trails to lead into KC. UP will continue to bank their part of the line. The line from Windsor to St. Louis is also banked and only a few miles near St. Louis is in use, although SP did run service to Owensville until the late 90's. About two miles of the trail on the road bed have been completed near Pleasant Hill and Ameren has now agreed to allow the trail to be built on the current road bed instead of beside it as originally agreed. While this track is unlikely to ever again see service, it is still part of the rail infrastructure.

Jim Arndt
Chilhowee, MO
6/3/2011

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To read this makes me very upset and extremely disappointed in this state and in ameren. I was hoping they would go with the trail beside the track as this track NEEDS to be restored as a mainline. It has huge history, great sites for tourists and really serves missouri better than UP's line which goes out of service every time it floods. I'm very sad to see they're allowing the trail to be placed on the rail bed and not restoring this line, inexcusable!

John
St. Louis, MO
9/28/2011

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Actually with the current condition of the roadbed it could not be "restored" without a complete and total rebuilding. Many of the bridges have been taken out or filled, crossing removed, etc. It makes far more sense to allow the trail to be built on the road bed and if/when the road needs to be reopened, it would be that much ahead. Don't take me wrong, I'd love to see the line reopened, I spent much of my childhood chasing, watching, riding the old Rock Trains on this line, but honestly at this time the line is not needed as a rail line. As for the UP, the River Line does flood quite often, but the line from KC to Jefferson City via Sedalia is never affected, is signalled both ways (Amtrak use) and is no where near capcity even when traffic is run both directions. New sidings being added currently will make the line that much better.

Jim Arndt
Chilhowee, MO
9/29/2011

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Jim Arndt - RE: your comment that "only a few miles near St. Louis is in use," it's actually a bit more than "a few miles" -- it's about 60 total. Keep in mind that service still continues on a regular basis, provided by the Central Midland Railway from St. Louis to Union, MO. CMR is the contract rail service provider for Ameren. From what I've observed, CMR has actually increased service / traffic on this portion of the line. Furthermore, it is important to note that from Vigus, MO (near Creve Coeur Lake) east to a location near I-170 & Page Ave. in St. Louis county is still owned by the Union Pacific. UP leases its portion of the "east end" to Ameren's contractor, CMR. Thus, UP owns both ends of this Rock Island line, effectively capping any potential future competition to its ex-Missouri Pacific St. Louis - Jeff City - Kansas City main line.

Scott Austin
St. Louis
4/18/2013

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Scott, your correct. UP owns both ends of the RI line so good luck with any hope of through traffic.

This line does closes for floods also. If the flood is big enough on the Missouri river to close the UP line then usually the flood gates in the Chesterfield bottoms get closed. Also, It won't lose it's history after being turned it into a trail if anything it will be remembered by more. Just look at how many tourists and locals use the Katy trail.

Short of Owensville, there is not enough businesses along the old line to profit from rebuilding. The r.o.w. is so far deteriorated and completely gone in some places.

Yes a few companies could benefit have rail service again though a lot more towns could benefit having a pedestrian trail like the Katy trail. From what I've been reading lately a lot more people/towns along the line want a trail.

The Katy trail is one greatest public parks in Mo. You can legally walk/ride bikes on a old railroad! Especially the old RI line west of Belle, two huge bridges, 4 tunnels and running across some of Missouri's prettiest countryside. To me, that is right up there with taking a picture of a train, if not better. I agree with Jim, "at this time the line is not needed as a rail line."

Andrew
Union, MO
4/30/2013

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We all lament the abandoned Rock Island across Missouri but the line was doomed when they completed it in 1904.There was not a single major city along the route and only a few light industries and some agricultural business.The Cotton Belt (SP) acquired it to keep Santa Fe from getting it and entering the St.Louis gateway directly. A silly ploy in a time when railroads were about merge that would make any such rivalry obsolete.

Kenneth L. Bird
Lincoln, MO, MO
5/5/2013

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Pleasant Hill has already built a bike trail in town. It runs from Pleasant Hill Lake, northwest of town, more or less parallel to and on the east side of the active UP line - it doesn't use the old St. Louis Sub ROW. It comes into town at the corner of Oak and Welsh streets by the grain elevator, crosses the UP on Wyoming Street, and currently ends at the corner of Front Street and Harrison Street. I presume that when the Katy Trail extension is completed, it will run due west from this point to join the old ROW. South of downtown, the southbound trail signs all say "Katy Trail".

The state of Missouri is calling the Katy Trail extension "Rock Island Trail State Park", and says it will be done Real Soon Now.

http://mostateparks.com/park/rock-island-trail-state-park

The bridge on Missouri 7 over the ROW is still there, but it will be interesting to see how they get the trail over the active UP branch to Harrisonville just north of Missouri 7. Presumably they will build an overpass for the trail.

Up through spring 2013, MARC (the Kansas City area planning group) was blowing and going on a commuter rail plan for KC.

http://www.kcsmartmoves.org/projects/jacksoncounty.aspx

They were proposing service along this corridor from downtown KC to (at first) Lee's Summit and (eventually) Pleasant Hill, and service along the (active) KCS line from downtown KC to Grain Valley.

Matt Roberds
Missouri
11/10/2013

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Can we please stop referring to the ex-Rock Island St. Louis Line as the St. Lous Subdivision? Sure, it's anal & nitpicky but under RI operation it was never known by that name. When RI took over operation from the Colorado, this line was first included as the Rock Island's St. Louis Division, then the RI's St. Louis-Kansas City Division & finally from the mid 30's until shutdown was in the Rock Island's Missouri-Kansas Division. Under the MO-Kan Division the line was included first as Subdivisions 34 & 35 & then as Subdivisions 18 & 19 (the dividing point between the 2 Subs being Eldon, MO). The RI numbered its Subs rather than naming them which seems to be the current practice of the Class 1s. Having relatives that worked on the line & grown up with many, many RI employees of the line it was referred to by them as the 'St. Louis Line' & was also referred to as same by predecessor St. Louis, Kansas City & Colorado which went so far as to include 'The St. Louis Line' on some of its stationery circa 1900. Thanks for the vent.

Jack Wright
Jefferson City, MO
11/21/2013

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About 70 rail miles are in service from St Louis to just east of Beaufort, MO (12 rail miles/10 road miles west of Union). This last stretch between Union and Beaufort are used primarily for car storage, especially Ameren coal gondolas. However, I have visually verified track and roadbed are intact and serviceable with minimal effort (clearing grade crossings and brush ) as far west as the US 50 overpass one road mile west of Rosebud, MO. Potential customers for this segment would be the MFA elevator in Gerald, a large scrapyard, and Bull Moose Tube. In Union, customers served include American Plastics, Esselte, and Silgan Plastics.

Tony
St Louis, MO
12/8/2013

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Not sure exactly at what point on the eastern side the crews started but the track has now been removed from southeast of Windsor thru Leeton and continuing steadily westward.

Jim Arndt
Chilhowee, MO
5/27/2014

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