Katy Trail - a possible 51-mile extension from Clinton to Nevada? Maps & information

Recently we released an updated map of potential trail connections across Missouri that shows as one of the most interesting connections, the possibility of extending the Katy Trail about 51 more miles along the MKT corridor from Clinton to Nevada. 

Proposed multi-state trail system
Proposed multi-state trail system

Nevada is currently undergoing an extensive community health initiative, funded by Cerner Corporation, and interest in creating trail connections to the community is high.

How possible or likely is a trail connection from Clinton to Nevada?

Nevada-Fort Scott: Immediate trail conversion is a possibility

Some of the line, from Nevada to Fort Scott, KS, is no longer used at all.  This portion of the line seems ripe for immediate conversion to a rail-trail.  

That would provide an excellent, immediate trail connection for the city of Nevada, opens the possibility of connections to the growing rail-trails system within the state of Kansas, and will help create interest in further developing Missouri's rural trail system in this part of the state.

Nevada-Clinton: Still in active use, but for how much longer?

The rest of the line, from Nevada to Clinton is still in active rail use. But along this entire stretch, there are only a few destinations still served by the railroad line.  Some of those are only active for part of the year and deliveries to most customers are relatively small and quite infrequent in nature.  

However, there is one regular, very large customer on the line: KCPL's Montrose power plant, a coal-fired plant the relies on regular supplies of coal from Wyoming's Powder River Basin.  The coal is delivered a few times per month over the MKT line through Fort Scott, Nevada and La Due.

(Note that La Due is a few miles southwest of Clinton--and complete different from the city of Ladue, MO, in the St Louis metro area.  The Montrose Power Plant is located immediately adjacent to the Missouri DNR's Montrose Wildlife Area, which is on a three-mile spur line of the MKT west of La Due.)

Extending the Katy west from Clinton to La Due--a possibility, and a key piece of the statewide trails vision

The railroad has indicated it will continue to run trains from La Due to Clinton only until the tracks require major repair--and that could be just a few more years. 

When that happens, immediate consideration should be given to extending the Katy Trail from Clinton to La Due, which would extend the current Katy Trail by about eight miles, including a very scenic section through the wetlands at the northwest end of Truman Lake.  By providing a crossing of that arm of Truman Lake, this would provide an important link in the proposed trail connection between the end of the Frisco Highline Trail in Bolivar and the Katy Trail in Clinton. 

So even if the Katy Trail is never continued past La Due, just this initial eight-mile section provides a connection key to Missouri's statewide trail plan, which must include a good trails connection between the Katy Trail and the large and growing trail system in the Springfield area.

In the short to medium term, the Clinton-La Due trail could be the first stage of a bicycle tourism route connecting Clinton to Springfield, which would include the Clinton-La Due Trail at the north end, the Frisco Highline Trail from Bolivar to Springfield on the south end, and a series of low-traffic rural roads connecting the two.  The route might involve area towns like El Dorado Springs, Osceola, and Stockton.  

Nevada advocates are urging MoDOT to turn the existing Hwy 54 shoulder into a bicycle lane, designed and marked to create a bicycle route from El Dorado Springs to Nevada.  That means the Clinton-Springfield bicycle tourism route would also have a spur leading west to Nevada and would be the start of a true regional bicycle touring system.

With the addition of the Clinton-La Due section of the Katy Trail, plus some local coordinated planning and a few thousand dollars spent in route signs and maps, the entire region could create a very interesting bicycle tourism system at very low cost. It would be an coordinated regional effort similar to the one that created the 260-mile Highway 36 Bicycle Route across northern Missouri earlier this year.  A regional bicycle touring system combining trails and marked on-road routes would be similar to Quebec's very successful La route verte, which encompasses more than 850 miles of trails on on-road routes into a single, unified system.

If communities in the region would make a concerted and coordinated effort to work towards Bicycle Friendly Community status as well--as communities along the Katy Trail are currently planning to do--the result could be similar to the Great Alleghenny Passage's Trail Towns initiative or the Appalachian Trail Community program.

Katy Line from Clinton to Nevada and Fort Scott, KS
Katy Line from Clinton to Nevada and Fort Scott, KS
What about the rest of the line--from La Due to Nevada?

In 1998 KCPL put fairly a major investment into updating its rail unloading facilities at the Montrose plant. More recently, KCPL has indicated it plans to upgrade the coal-fired plant to meeting current environmental regulations, a signal it intends to continue operating the plant using coal brought in by the railroad. As long as the Montrose plant continues to operate on coal, the railroad line from Nevada to Montrose is very likely to continue in use.

On the flip side, pressure to close coal-fired power plants, or reconfigure them for use with other power sources like natural gas, has increased in the U.S. in recent years.  For example, in 2007, environmental groups reached an agreement with KCPL to work to decrease the number of coal-fired plants in use, including an agreement to study the possibility of switching the Montrose plant to natural gas.  At this point it is impossible to predict whether that switch will happen in the near term or ever. But if the plant were to convert to natural gas, or if it were to close, the main reason for maintaining the MKT line from Fort Scott to La Due would very suddenly cease to exist. And that would most definitely open the way to conversion of the rail line to trail use.

In the meanwhile, with only a few slow-moving trails per month using the MKT line, it presents an excellent possibility for a rails with trails configuration.  Doing so would extend the Katy Trail to nearly 300 miles--over 300 miles if the trail were continued to the state line and Fort Scott, KS--and would bring healthy economic development to this part of the state while still allowing the railroad to continue operation as it currently does.

Background: Recent history of the MKT line from Clinton to Fort Scott

The Katy Depot in Sedalia has a good rundown of the history and possible future of the MKT line. Below is the part of the story relevant to the Clinton-Nevada-Fort Scott section of the line:

Missouri & Northern Arkansas Railroad

In 1992, Union Pacific sold and leased its downgraded Carthage and White River Subdivisions to Railtex (now RailAmerica). Railtex named this new operation the Missouri & Northern Arkansas Railroad (MNA).

Included in the package was the former MKT line from Ft. Scott through Nevada to Clinton. Traffic patterns on the old MKT line changed little after MNA began operations; the coal trains to Ladue continued to operate as usual, as did the as-needed-basis locals.

Downgrades and abandonments continued after MNA assumed operations. First of all, MNA abandoned and tore out the northern-most three remaining miles of track, between the former Frisco junction at Clinton to FPE Siding, which was the location of an agricultural fertilizer distribution plant. The right-of-way between those two points joined the rest of the abandoned St. Louis Division and was donated to the Stare for the Katy Trail.

The second downgrade occurred in 1997 after MNA moved the Ladue coal trains off the BN's Ft. Scott Sub and onto its own parallel ex-MP lines into Nevada. Formerly, the BN handed over its coal trains to the MKT at Ft. Scott, where they were then taken to Ladue and vice-versa. After MNA moved the coal trains to its old MP lines, the old MKT trackage from Ft. Scott to Nevada was rendered useless MNA did keep the rails in place though to store surplus rail cars. In 1998, BNSF (successor to the BN) finally removed the inactive ex-MKT crossing and diamonds in Ft. Scott, effectively severing the connection with the MNA.

The 90's and Beyond

In 1996, Union Pacific finally abandoned the southern Sedalia stub of the old MKT trackage, which ran from the UP mainline (north of the Katy Depot) to the MFA complex on the south end of town. Referred to in UP timetables as the "Campbell Stub," the sole customer on the line was the MFA elevator, which only received a few cars per year, and Sutherland's Lumber.

Sutherland’s built a new (off-line) mega-store on U.S. 65 in 1996, and then closed its smaller MKT-served store on U.S. 50. After traffic to the MFA elevator dropped off, UP threw in the towel and removed the tracks, donating the right-of-way to the State for the Katy Trail. Trail advocates had long wanted UP to abandon this segment, as it created a gap in the trail route.

The north segment (Alcolac Stub) to the old Rhone Puelanc plant was kept in place to store surplus rail cars. UP wanted to retain the line to serve the chemical plant, should a new owner reopen it. The Rhone Puelanc factory was shut down in the early 1990's after two major chemical leaks forced the plant to discontinue operations. UP finally gave up hope of the plant reopening and ripped out the track in 2000. The roadbed was donated for the Trail.

Operations Today 

Katy System Map
Katy System Map

Today, MNA continues to operate an as-needed local run to Clinton, or as far as traffic dictates the need to travel. Frequency varies by month and season, but is usually every 5-10 days. Trains on the once 40 m.p.h. mainline between Ladue and Clinton now trundle along the rusty, weedy, decrepit track at 10 m.p.h. The only remaining rail customer in Clinton is Lowe Champion, which is located near the old Frisco junction along the remaining north end of the old Frisco line.  Until the 1990's the Farmers’ Elevator and Rival Mfg. still received cars. The elevator switched to trucks and Rival closed down.  Lowe Champion has been served by a team track near the old Frisco yard; the company moved into the Rival plant when it closed.

MNA has made it known that it will continue to operate to Clinton only until the tracks rot to the point of needing a major investment. In 2005, the railroad reached an agreement with the city, and all crossing signals in town were taken out of service and replaced with cross bucks.

Several smaller grain elevators and industries along the way, such as the ones in Montrose and Appleton City, continue to ship and receive various goods by rail. Most of these are agriculture-related industries that ship and receive only during the spring, summer and fall. However, the lifeblood of the old St. Louis Division is the KCPL power plant at Ladue. Trains operate several times per month from Nevada to the plant, which is located on a three-mile long spur off the "mainline" at Ladue. In 1998, KCPL constructed a new balloon track and rotary-dump unloading facility in order to more quickly and efficiently unload trains. With this kind of investment, KCPL will probably keep the old MKT St. Louis Division busy for many more years to come.