Federal board steps in on Glass Road trestle|[02/27/08]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Issues between Warren County and Kansas City Southern Railway over the status of a trestle at Glass Road should be settled outside ongoing talks to abandon the rail spur, a federal ruling says.

Long a hazard for modern vehicles and emergency units, parts of the trestle on county right of way were removed in January. Work ceased within days when county officials were alerted to the work possibly being in violation of federal law.

Now, a decision by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board seems to have put that matter aside while setting terms and deadlines for the railroad and commercial interests seeking to put the line back into service.

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The agency directed KCS to preserve all records, photographs, inspection reports and other information on the trestle’s condition at the time operators of Foam Packaging — lone rail shipper on the spur — formally announced intent to purchase from KCS a 4.25-mile stretch slated for abandonment. The trestle is five one-hundredths of a mile inside that zone. Removing it would not interfere with traffic to Foam Packaging.

District 4 Supervisor Bill Lauderdale had ordered removal of the 9.5-foot high trestle, but later admitted he had not researched the status of the rail line itself before doing so.

No comment was offered on what recourse against the county the railroad may have, as the three-member board concluded it “is an issue that should be addressed and resolved by KCS and the county, if necessary, in the appropriate forum.”

Prices set by the agency were $376,320 for a 1.9-mile segment of rail line jointly sought by Foam Packaging President Raymond B. English and Maryland-based short-line rail operator James Riffin and $128,295 for the remaining 2.35 miles, including the Glass Road trestle.

The parties have until Monday to accept the terms and conditions. If accepted, Riffin and KCS have the option to determine any compensation owed to reflect the cost of restoring the trestle. The agency can vacate an earlier decision to postpone authorizing the abandonment if English and Riffin withdraw their offer or miss their deadline.

The spur extends south from main KCS east-west lines. Rail operations are subject to federal regulations and adding track or ending service through abandonment is subject to federal oversight. Foam Packaging began its effort to keep the line in service in mid-2007 when Vicksburg officials announced they had struck a deal with Minnesota-based Lakes Entertainment to own some of the right-of-way as part of a casino resort, a proposal still alive on paper but slammed in the context of public use provisions by the Surface Transportation Board, an administrative arm of the U.S Department of Transportation.

The acreage was said to be part of a deal that would land it back in the city’s hands for use under the National Trails System Act, which the agency has held in abeyance until completion of the buyout process.

Meanwhile, the company has sought help in various forms from Riffin and New Jersey-based CNJ Rail Corp., both of which have been involved in unrelated abandonment proceedings regarding rail lines on the East Coast.

A letter written by City Attorney Nancy Thomas filed Feb. 20 with federal authorities refuted an earlier claim by Riffin that the city was interested in using the low bridge as part of its trail concept. In it, Thomas said the city “would be pleased” if the bridge were removed as part of the city acquiring rights of way for a trail and discussed the matter in 2007 with former District 4 Supervisor Carl Flanders — referred to in the letter as “a former member of the Warren County Board of Supervisors who represented the district where the bridge is located.”