Misunderstood issues about the Katy Bridge at Boonville

Recent articles about the Katy Trail at Boonville have given information that is factually false or misleading.

News articles on this subject have repeated many of these incorrect arguments many times.

This Missouri Bicycle Federation's interest in this matter is to protect the rights and interests of Katy Trail users and to ensure the existence of the Katy Trail as a whole. Many of the current arguments and actions taken with regard to the bridge have had a clear political color to them.

Our position is that the Katy Trail is a state park, one of Missouri's gems, and protecting it for the use of Missouri's citizens and visitors goes far beyond politics or partisanship.

The article below lays down the facts of the case, as best we understand them. The situation is indeed complex. The simplest available explanation of the issues is here.

From a recent AP article:
"There is absolutely no substance to the argument that the removal of that bridge could create a severance of the trail," said Kurt Schaefer, DNR's deputy director and general counsel. "The trail doesn't go over the bridge, it's never gone over the bridge. So there's no interference with any rights they would have as users of the trail."
MoBikeFed's Response: There are two completely separate issues here:
  • A potential break in the Katy Trail
  • A break in the underlying Katy railroad corridor
A break in the trail would inconvience trail users. However, such a break does not threaten the legal status of the Katy Trail. Removing the Katy Railroad Bridge at Boonville does not break the Katy Trail. No one has suggested that it does.

A break in the underlying Katy railroad corridor does indeed threaten the legal status of the entire Katy Trail.

This is the sort of break that removing the (currently unused) Katy Railroad Bridge would create.

The problem is that in order to maintain railbanked status, the rail line must be able to be used again as a rail corridor.

Any point where it becomes impossible to re-establish such future trail use creates a break in the line for railroad purposes.

Giving up the Katy Bridge and, more importantly, the railroad right-of-way needed to cross the river at that point does indeed create a break in the rail line.

This is the important fact that threatens the existence of the Katy Trail--not the break in the Katy Trail itself (there is no such break!) but the break in the Katy rail right-of-way that threatens the railbanked status of the Katy railroad corridor.

Click here to find out why it is important to avoid breaks in the Katy Railroad right-of-way.

An additional issue: Even if the Missouri DNR chooses to give up the railroad bridge, it could have (and still could) take positive steps to preserve the rail right-of-way and thus prevent or reduce the threat to the railbanked status of the Katy line. For instance, they could have entered into an agreement with the railroad that preserved the right to the railroad right-of-way even though the physical bridge is removed.

However, they have not done so.

The article continues:
The deal specifically excluded the Boonville bridge from the sale. But it gave the state the right to use the bridge for the trail if it assumed liability on terms acceptable to the railroad.
MoBikeFed's response: This is true as far as it goes. However, the article fails to mention that the original agreement that created the Katy Trail gave the state a specific second right in regards to the Katy Bridge that is actually more important than the right to use the bridge as part of the Katy Trail:
MKT agrees that said bridge shall be kept available for transportation purposes in accordance with ICC decision ex parte No. 274 (Sub.-No. 13)
This means that, regardless of whether the bridge is actually used as part of the trail, and even though the railroad retains ownership of the bridge, the railroad agreed to keep the bridge available for transportation purposes.

This is important because of the reasons outlined above: If the bridge becomes unavailable for transportation purposes (that is, railroad use) then a break is created in the Katy railroad corridor, leading to all the problems outlined here.

When the Katy Trail was created, both the railroad and the DNR saw the problems that could happen if the railroad right-of-way was broken at Boonville. That is why they took specific steps in the Katy Trail Interim Agreement to ensure that the rail right-of-way was not broken.

When the Missouri DNR agreed in April 2005 to give up to the Katy Bridge to Union Pacific Railroad, the agreement they signed at that time specifically acknowledges both of the rights the DNR had in the bridge. The DNR specifically agrees to give up both rights:
First, the right to use the bridge for trail purposes is given up: By separate document MDNR [the Missouri Department of Natural Resources] will release its right under paragraph 6 of the Agreement to utilize the Boonville lift bridge (MKT Bridge No. 191.1) for trail purposes,

Second, the right to have the bridge kept available for transportation purposes is given up: and agrees that UP [Union Pacific] may consummate the abandonment of the bridge and remove it.
The term "abandonment" is a technical legal term, which in this case means that Union Pacific will give up the right to use the bridge as a railroad transportation corridor.

Again, the main points:
  • Even though the Katy Trail does not cross the Missouri River on the Katy Bridge, abandoning the Katy Bridge still threatens the railbanked status of the underline rail line (which is a distinct entity from the trail). Thus abandoning the bridge in the way DNR has chosen to do it does indeed threaten the existence of large sections of the Katy Trail.
  • It may be possible for the DNR to give up the actual bridge while still maintaining the necessary right of way for railroad use. Howebver, DNR did not do so in the April 2005 agreement and shows no sign of doing so now.
The Katy Trail has enemies who have not hesitated to bring lawsuits against the trail in the past. These foes of the trail have pursued the lawsuits as far as the United States Supreme Court--so we know that, though they may be few, they are tenacious and determined.

This suggest that any chink in the legal armor protecting the existence of the Katy Trail will be fully exploited.

Abandoning the Katy Bridge, especially in the manner the DNR has done it, has created many chinks for these foes and their lawyers to exploit.