Despite rumors flooding social media channels and word of mouth throughout the metro-east about the latest announcement of CSX Railroad filing for temporary two-year discontinuation of service of its railroad track route that runs through O’Fallon, one thing is for sure — the route will remain under the review of the Surface Transportation Board and turning the tracks into a bike trail isn’t a feasible option at this time.
“There seems to be some confusions and we’re trying to iron them out,” said Bryan Werner, planner for the Metro East Park and Recreation District located in Collinsville. “We’ve recently corresponded with representatives from the STB and Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in order to clarify the intent of the public notice published by CSX. We believe the notice, as published, is for discontinuation of service of the rail line and not abandonment. The most significant difference of the two being, a segment discontinued of service remains in control by the STB and is not eligible for Rail Banking, i.e. Public Trail Use, whereas an abandoned segment is eligible for Rail Banking.
“Only representatives of CSX or their actual application to the STB will answer the current questions about their intentions and future use of the alignment,” Werner said.
CSX published a legal notice in the Nov. 13 Belleville News-Democrat stating the company is planning on filing an application to be exempt from abandonment permitting the discontinuation of service over several miles of its western line of tracks from St. Clair County through O’Fallon.
The publication states that on or about Nov. 20, the company intends to file an application with the Surface Transportation Board in Washington, D.C.
O’Fallon Historical Society President Brian Keller said he’s been keeping abreast about the future of the CSX tracks that run through the heart of downtown O’Fallon.
“One important point is that they’re only requesting to the STB to formally discontinue service on part of the line they cut — Caseyville to Aviston, not all the way to Flora, at least not (at this point),” Keller said. “This is the western part of the line that was cut back in August 2015 between Caseyville and Flora and which dates back to 1852. More to come, I’m sure. Whether this means that CSX intends to ultimately abandon the line completely, or if this is just a more permanent ‘temporary’ move remains to be seen.”
According to O’Fallon Mayor Gary Graham’s office, CSX recently filed for a 24-month temporary closure with the STB, formerly Interstate Commerce Commission, but otherwise long-term intentions are unknown at this time.
“We have heard several rumors but have not received anything official,” said Pam Funk, assistant city administrator.
Funk said known factors include:
▪ CSX is waiting for economic conditions to improve before reopening
▪ CSX is planning to sell the line to another railroad
▪ CSX is making modifications to the line to satisfy a Homeland Security requirement
CSX representatives could not be reached for comment.
In terms of the Rails-to-Trails idea, Funk said the Metro East Park and Recreation District has been exploring options in terms of a hypothetical abandonment in the future.
Werner confirmed discussions will continue until all key elements are clear between the STB, Rails-to-Trails and MEPRD about the future of the CSX tracks running through the region.
“There is a definite difference between the verbiage of ‘intent of abandonment’ and ‘discontinuation of service temporarily,’” Werner said. “I’m working on this right now and it’s not looking as though the tracks will be turning into a bike path now because of its lack of eligibility due to the fact that it's merely scheduled for a discontinuance of service and not abandonment.”
Citing a document prepared by the STB titled, “Abandonments and Alternatives to Abandonment,” Werner explains the excerpt generically describes the discontinuance authority of a carrier.
“Also I spoke to Eric Oberg, of Rails-to-Trails organization yesterday and learned they will be publishing a white paper in the next week or two on the differences between abandonment and discontinuation of service,” Werner said. “I’m not aware of any current publications by others describing the differences at this time.”
Created in 1995 as a successor to the Interstate Commerce Commission through the ICC Termination Act of 1995, STB acts as an economic regulatory agency for resolving railroad rate and service disputes and reviewing proposed railroad mergers as stipulated by Congress.
Although, the STB is independent, it is still affiliated with the Department of Transportation for administrative purposes such as having jurisdiction over rail restructuring transactions like mergers, line sales, line construction and line abandonment cases.
Keller said social media sites are buzzing about the fate of the tracks, which run through O’Fallon.
“I saw another post that said they heard Union Pacific might be interested in the line but another said that wouldn’t make sense given the current market. Oh well, rumors will abound,” he said. “This is all becoming a bit like reading tea leaves. But it’s fascinating history — it will be interesting to see how this all plays out and what the end result is.”