Old rail line to get new life as trail

Sunday, October 26, 2003

CARTHAGE, Mo. -- An abandoned railroad line stretching 15 miles in southwest Missouri to the Kansas state line could soon be traveled again.

This time, though, it would be by foot and bicycle instead of railcar.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway has notified the federal Surface Transportation Board that it has entered into an agreement with Joplin Trail Coalition to convert a section of the railroad to a recreational trail.

"We are excited about the project moving forward," said Paul Teverow, president of the coalition that developed the Joplin-Webb City Frisco Greenway Trail.

The proposed trail would run west from Carthage to the Missouri-Kansas line.

Supporters originally hoped for a 28-mile trail from Carthage to Columbus, Kan. Opposition and a fee imposed by the Cherokee County Commission caused the trail group to drop the Kansas portion.

Trains have not rolled on the stretch since 1992, and salvage crews are removing some of the tracks.

Charles Montange, a Seattle lawyer who represents the Joplin Trail Coalition, said the trail would not open until the salvage operation concludes. That could be sometime next spring.

The deal is not without issues in Missouri. Several Carl Junction-area landowners and the Carl Junction School District have been in court for more than a year trying to persuade the railroad to surrender the title to the land to them.

The plaintiffs believe they control the corridor, based on 19th-century laws and a court case from 1876.

Their lawsuit contends the Missouri Constitution mandates that land taken for railroads without the consent of property owners must be used only for railroads or the title to it reverts to the line's adjacent property owners.

Montange said that such lawsuits are common and that national trails organizations have been successful in defending against them.

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