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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My dad worked for the Rock Island Railroad in Eldon when I was just a little bitty girl. He then went to work for Missouri Pacific which became Union Pacific, etc. He retired a railroad trackman after making a living for decades on the rail. I owe my existence for the first eighteen years of my life to the railroad. And our community owed its existence to the railroad for a long time, too.

The hub of Eldon was the depot for decades. Everything in Eldon started and ended at the railroad tracks. Now, the tracks have lain dormant. They have disintegrated into disrepair and have become overgrown with weeks, bushes and even trees. The railroad that once served as a lifeline and heartbeat for our community is now a place to dump your trash, bunk up in an abandoned building for a while, or perform illicit and illegal activities out of sight of neighbors and law enforcement.

For the last three years, a small coalition of folks in Eldon has been attempting to work with Missouri Central Railroad/Ameren to develop a walking and biking trail on the three miles of rail through our community. While we would love to see active rail service back in Eldon, we realize that is an impossible dream since the tracks have been sitting vacant, and now derelict, for almost three decades. Sadly, we no longer have the business foundation required to support regular rail service.

In the last year, Eldon's Rock Island Trail Coalition has joined forces with Owensville and other communities along the line to form Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc (MORIT). Together we attempted to work with Ameren to come to a reasonable agreement about how to develop this trail. Unbeknownst to us, the right of way went up for sale this summer. Fortunately, someone from out of state heard about the sale and contacted MORIT. We worked diligently to determine how we could develop partnerships to place a viable bid on the property. It quickly became apparent that Ameren did not want to deal with MORIT, but they were willing to work with MO State Parks and other railroad and trail entities. MORIT has been instrumental in bringing partners together and State Parks lead the way to submit a bid for the Rock Island/Missouri Central ROW.

We are anxiously awaiting the results of the bid and Ameren's announcement (originally set for August 31). We sincerely hope we have the opportunity to transform what the author of this piece calls 'one of the longest continuous disused rights-of-way in the country' into one of the longest rails-to-trails projects in the nation, energizing the economic development potential and quality of life for all the picturesque communities along the line. Please feel free to visit the Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc, the Missouri Bicycle Federation, and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Facebook pages for more information.

Daphney Partridge
Eldon, MO
8/29/2014

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Begging your pardon Daphne, but there is indeed use for rail service, and Eldon is the key to it. Passenger rail in the form of miniture Auto-trains from KC to Eldon and St Louis to Eldon could ferry people and their vehicles between these points. This would be extremely useful in summer when I-70 is clogged with lake-bound vacationers. For those choosing not to take their cars, connecting bus services could be instituted--for far, far less than upgrading I-70 and US 54.

Tony Creamer
Union, MO
8/29/2014

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Converting the line to a trail makes good economic sense. It will boost tourism in Missouri and give some of the communities along the route some needed exposure. I can see a connection with the Katy trail at Windsor which will allow riders a return path from whence they originated. In today's world there is no scheme that could revitalize the line for rail transportation. It would take a million dollars per mile to get it back in operation and, like the year it was built, there would still would not be enough revenue to keep it running.I say make it a trail and be done with it.

Ken Bird
Lincoln,, MO
8/30/2014

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Incorrect, converting it into a trail only is a waste of a valuable transportation resource. You are looking strictly in terms of profit. What needs to be looked at is the cost avoidance value of putting the line back in service, and then marketing that service to potential customers in leiu of spending hundreds of millions to build and maintain more and larger highways each year. What I propose is that MoDot would rebuild the line and operate the line on a highway cost-avoidance basis. This is in truth, the best measure of a rail line's utility, and a good argument can be made that the line meets these criteria.

Tony Creamer
Union, MO
8/30/2014

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That argument is old hat. As AMTRAK has shown, Americans will not abandon their cars for rail, except in a few dense corridor areas. Believe Missouri is not dense, although some of the residents may be. As the private rail industry has proved, profit is the only motive that gives us viable transportation,not government owned transportation entities.

Ken Bird
Lincoln, MO
8/31/2014

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They will eventually have little choice in the matter-- economics will see to that. Already, economic forces are conspiring to ensure that road use taxes will have to come into use, if we are to have any roads at all worth driving on. The question is how well prepared we will be for that day. Nor does my proposal require that Americans (or in this case Missourians) give up their vehicles. My limiting the length of an mini auto train to three rack cars, you ensure that loading and unloading will proceed swiftly. You have sets cycling back between KC, Eldon, and St Louis with one reserve set at each location in the event of difficulties. Ideally, you would eliminate the locomotive in favor of MU diesel-electric railcars rated to pull three loaded rack cars while carrying a full load of passengers using off-the-shelf technology. They would have full MU and train-service jumpers. (This is to ensure sufficient power in the event of one car breaking down). Estimating a loaded bi-level rack car with ten eight-thousand pound vehicles gives us a loaded weight of about 150,000 pounds (75 tons). Thus a DEMU car to pull itself and three loaded racks with a 3 hp/ton ratio would require about 1,000 hp--easily achievable. As for the private vs public ownership--truck, bus, and airline companies are by default publicly owned entities by virtue of the fact none of them have paid but a fraction of their fair share of the construction and maintenance costs for the facilities they use. Transportation in this country has been seriously socialized for decades, and to an extent always will be "for the public/greater good". Freight service could be contracted out on a cost-plus basis, or more likely, along the lines of a public utility (which all trasnportation, public or private, basically is). Going to road-use taxes that are theoretically remunerative to the government would alleviate this problem to a degree, but there will always be some piece of infrastructure needed that can never be hoped to truly cover the cost of its own existence. Remember also that a road-use tax that would truly be remunerative to the entities building the roads would be crippling to many people--such a tax would be in excess of $1.00 per ton-mile, with a two ton-mile minimum. Which means I should theoretically be paying the government at least $30,000 a year to drive my Mazda2 on public roads, and that the rich are subsidizing my poor lifestyle and transportation decisions. Like it or not, that disaster will strike soon enough, a good many of this country's financial ills are a result of this. Transporation, like coal, clean air, oil, rainforests, and clean water and waterways is a valuable resource which must be carefully and judiciously used for our economic, social, physical, and mental health. Bicycles are a lovely way to have fun.... but essentially useless as an all-weather transportation system. Certain parts of the world can get away with it--to a degree--we aren't among them. Hiking, another lovely pastime, is useless unless you have the stamina and time to take two weeks to cross Missouri. I recall a comment by a political figure--I forget who--that bicycles pollute more than cars. As they are used NOW, this is incorrect--but to build the facilities to use bicycles as a bona-fide all weather transportation system--he's right. Even if the concept I propose is premature--its day will come soon IF it is premature..... it would certainly be better than paving over more of Missouri to make I-70 six or eight lanes... and much cheaper and more reliable.

Tony Creamer
Union, MO
8/31/2014

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Regardless of the arguments about why rail traffic on the Rock Island Corridor should be resumed - a few facts. In 1999 when Ameren purchased the corridor, they estimated that it would cost $35 million to bring the line up to 35-40 mile status west of Union. Since the 1980's there has simply not been enough business to justify the expense of running freight on the Rock Island - if there was we would be seeing train traffic instead of a huge eyesore. MODOT cannot operate a railroad because under the regulations of the Surface Transportation Board, only a bonafide railroad can purchase, lease, and operate railroads. If Ameren sells the inactive portion of the line it will most likely be abandoned and the steel will be removed.

Railbanking for interim trail use is the only way to preserve the corridor for future rail or other transportation use. Rail service is a great way to travel and I love traveling that way when possible. However, Amtrak would not exist if it were not heavily funded by government. I believe preserving the corridor is the most important thing we can do for generations to come and if that means railbanking for interim trail use, then that is what we must do.

Chrysa
Owensville, MO
9/2/2014

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$35 million is a drop in the bucket compared to widening and/or improving I-70..... also the STB regulations do not forbid MoDot forming its own bona-fide operating company, taking over Central Midland, or contracting with Central Midland or another company to operate the line. There are loopholes and legal devices suited to the situation. My proposal was primarily for a passenger/vehicle ferry corridor, any frieght obtained would merely be icing on the cake. Even so.... there's more business to be had out there than one would think at first blush right along the line. Transload facilities at strategic points would go a long way toward filling more freight cars. I don't propose that we'll see hundred car manifests--but it's a fair bet you could yank a hundred trucks off the road a month with resultant ascetic, environmental, and safety improvements. Every carload helps.

Tony Creamer
Union, MO
9/11/2014

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Exciting news for the Rock Island Line:

http://mobikefed.org/2014/10/its-official-rock-island-trail-track-become-second-cross-missouri-trail-making-450-mile-inte

Daphney
Eldon, MO
10/7/2014

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That is good news. The Rock will not be plowed under after all and the east end of the line will continue in operation, under contract, on 53 miles or so.I can't wait to get my bike up on that old roadbed.

Ken Bird
Lincoln, MO, MO
10/7/2014

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