By Jeff Fox

jeff.fox@examiner.net 

Local officials and the Union Pacific Railroad today announced the $52 million sale of an old rail line to be used as a hiking-and-biking trail and eventually used for commuter rail service.

“For a railroad to agree to give up a valuable asset ... that is historic,” said Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders.

Today was the deadline that Sanders and the UP had set months ago to work out a deal for the county to buy a 17.7-mile stretch of old Rock Island tracks from near Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums southeast to Lee’s Summit and Greenwood. Sanders and the UP said that deal is essentially worked out and a final agreement is expected within four weeks.

Officials made the announcement outside Arrowhead this afternoon against a backdrop with an artist’s rendering of a commuter rail stop at the Sports Complex.

“Imagine being able to leave your seat at Arrowhead or Kauffmann ... and be able to get to your home before many cars leave the parking lot,” Sanders said.

The county has brought in a partner, the Kansas City Area Transit Authority, which is splitting the acquisition cost with the county and which would operate commuter rails in what officials outline as a coordinated system with buses and Kansas City’s downtown streetcar, which gets rolling early next year. 

It could be six months to a year before federal approval comes through for a transfer of the old line to the ATA. Then work could get started on the estimated $15 million it would take to turn the line into a biking-and-hiking trail. Sanders said that money is already in hand, thanks in large part to a $10 million federal grant the county secured last year. 

Sanders has pushed for a commuter rail system for six years, and there’s still no timeline for when that could get started. The corridor carrying the tracks is wide enough for both a trail and commuter rail tracks safely separated by a sturdy fence, officials said.

“This is the spine that all other (commuter rail) lines can flow from,” he said.

Sanders has consistently said commuter rail service can transform the way the entire Kansas City area grows and develops.

“We know that multimodal transportation can breathe new life into a city,” added Kansas City Mayor Sly James.