Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Are We There Yet? Greenline Progress

railbed of the future Memphis Greenline, Shelby Farms, MemphisI had asked a few months ago if anyone knew the status of the Greenline.

Last Saturday I was able to talk to Greater Memphis Greeline board members, Bob "Bob" Schreiber and Syd Lerner at the Vollintine-Evergreen Forest Faire. Here's what I got:

  1. Memphis Community Connector (MCC), which is an acquisition group for the Greenline right-of-way, is negotiating with CSX, the railroad and present owner of the right-of-way, for a rails-to-trails agreement. In a rails-to-trails agreement, the railroad will sell the right-of-way, but the Surface Transportation Board (the federal regulatory agency with jurisdiction over rail restructuring transactions, henceforth known as the STB) will retain authority. This means that the right-of-way could one day be returned to rail service, e.g., light rail.

  2. MCC (later joined by Shelby County) has also petitioned the Surface Transportation Board for exemptions and waivers in preparation for a possible “adverse” abandonment application for the Greenline.

    As I understand it, CSX can undertake a voluntary abandonment or possibly be subject to an adverse abandonment. In the latter case the Surface Transportation "Board does not compel a railroad to abandon its line, but rather approves abandonment, which then, with the shield of the Board’s authority removed as a result of that approval, may be used to compel the railroad to transfer the line under state eminent domain laws or other laws for that purpose. " (from their decision on MCC's petition). So whether the abandonment is voluntary or adverse, the STB must remove their authority before state eminent domain law can apply.

  3. In a letter on September 12, 2007 to the STB (pdf), MCC attorney Nicholas J. DiMichael noted that CSX had filed for voluntary abandonment, then withdrew that filing, then re-instated the filing. He asked that MCC's petition for waiver and exemptions for an adverse abandonment application remain in effect in case CSX changes their mind again. The Board must grant the petition so MCC can file an adverse abandonment application -- just in case CSX doesn't agree to a rails-to-trails agreement or voluntary abandonment .

  4. According to Schreiber and Lerner, CSX is clearing the brush and removing the tracks on the Greenline. They think that this is a good thing as it indicates that CSX at least will voluntarily abandon the line.

  5. On October 10, 2007, the STB ruled on the exemptions and waivers petition, some in favor of the MCC, others not in favor. But from my non-lawyer perspective, it looks as though the adverse abandonment application can proceed, if CSX doesn't negotiate a rails-to-trails agreement and changes its mind about a voluntary abandonment.
After reading through dense and near-inpenetrable rails-to-trails-geekery, a hike from Midtown to Shelby Farms will now seem easy.

Hopefully, you'll get your chance in the not-too-near-term future.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Will Barrett said...

I'm still a little unclear as to where the trail will start and end. I followed the tracks on google earth and they seem to blend into that large set of tracks that runs above CBU and around the CY/Central Gardens border. It would probably be waaay too much of a stretch to get CSX to relinquish one of those three parallel tracks, which would bring the line right into Cooper Young (though this probably wouldn't be safe...hobos you know).

So where does the park begin? Do you create an entrance and mini-park down in the poplar viaduct underforest (the flicker bottoms?). Without some kind of connection, it's hard to see the greenline as being much of a boon to Midtown. I can envision connectivity through Tobey Park and a greener Fairgrounds, but that could be a ways off. It's also fun to think of a connection through the industrial bottoms, west binghampton (sosville), and on to Overton Park. This gets you closer to a VECA connection and also perhaps the mini-greenline to Overton Square(I still haven't figured out where that one is).

All this is to say that CSX isn't the only obstacle to getting this done. I'll admit that High Point Terrace, Binghamton, and part of East Memphis will have a good Shelby Farms connector by only dealing with CSX, and that would be good in and of itself. Still, you'd like to be able to connect Midtown and ultimately downtown with Shelby Farms.

Once you get to Shelby Farms, is everyone going to ride their bikes and job straight through the penal farm?

I hope someone involved in the project has thought some of these questions through.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Stacey Greenberg said...

the mini greenline to overton square runs along lick creek (just west of the malco parking lot and then just east of bellair circle. if you stand at the historic bus shelter next to the park lane apartments on cooper and poplar and look south, you can practically see overton square.

hope that makes sense.

also gates--i wish you would have introduced yourself to me at the forest faire!

1:47 PM  
Blogger Will Barrett said...

Ok, I can barely make that out on the google earth, but now I know where to look.

2:09 PM  
Blogger gatesofmemphis said...

Will, not absolutely positive, but in this google map image, the lower (aka, southern) part of the fork in the tracks is where the CSX tracks begin. Zoom out to get your bearings -- it's under the Union viaduct.

I haven't heard where the western terminus of the Greenline will be, but I'll ask next time I see those guys. I don't ride my bike much, but when I did, the whole Tobey Park, Union Extended area seemed pretty easy, low stress.

A possibility is going from the fork cited above through the commercial area on Union Extended, down the eastern, less known part of Madison, through Lindenwood (if that's still possible), down Madison to Overton Square, down the mini-Greenline to Overton Park, through the Park through Evergreen and on to the VE Greenline. I'll map it soon. It sounds complex but it's pretty straight.

Stacey, I used the mini-greenline when I was a kid. We called it the ditch. Lick Creek greenway sounds better.

I'll definitely introduce myself at the next rock 'n romp.

11:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Progress made in attaining rail corridor for hiking, biking trail
'Greenline' is closer to reality with nonprofit, rail agreement
By Tom Charlier

Monday, August 25, 2008

In a possible first step toward developing a long-sought hiking and biking trail through much of Memphis, a nonprofit group says it has reached a preliminary agreement to acquire part of an idle railroad corridor on behalf of Shelby County.

Under the deal, Memphis Community Connector Inc. will pay CSX Transportation $5 million for rights to a 100-foot-wide strip of land extending from just north of Shelby Farms westward to near the Poplar and Union viaduct. The purchase would take in the western half of a 13.34-mile CSX rail corridor that extends east almost to Houston Levee Road.

Using funds donated by anonymous individuals and foundations, the nonprofit would buy the land and turn it over "straight to the county," said Charles F. Newman, a lawyer for Memphis Community Connector.

Final details must be resolved before a purchase agreement is signed, but many of the terms have been worked out, Newman said. The acquisition would clear the way for the county to begin work on a "greenline" park containing a multi-use trail.

"We've been working on this for over a year. It's been a difficult negotiation," Newman said. "Obviously, we're pleased to have reached this point."

Efforts to contact officials at Jacksonville, Fla.-based CSX since late Friday have been unsuccessful.

But county officials, who along with city leaders have been seeking to buy the railroad right-of-way for some five years, hailed the progress.

"This is a significant step forward in connecting our neighborhoods in a way that has not been possible in the past," County Mayor AC Wharton said in a prepared statement.

"This segment is a critical piece in our trail system plan, linking communities in the core city to Shelby Farms and areas beyond."

Andy Cates, founder and board chairman for Memphis Community Connector, called the tentative agreement a "very important milestone" in the development of an amenity that will greatly enhance opportunities local residents have for recreation and fitness activities.

The breakthrough comes two years after city and county officials broke off negotiations with CSX because the railroad had been seeking up to $17.8 million for the entire 13.34-mile corridor.

The acquisition will be made under the Rails-to-Trails provisions of the National Trails Act. It permits the county to construct and operate a trail system on the property while maintaining CSX Transportation's rights as the underlying owner, recognizing the possibility, however slight, that rail service could someday be restored.

Nationwide, some 15,000 miles of Rail-to-Trails projects have been established.

As for a timetable on the final purchase and the beginning of work on the greenline, Newman said, "It's very difficult to predict."

The rail corridor dates back to at least 1916, but by the late-1990s it was used little. In 2003, CSX received federal authorization to discontinue service on the line, and in recent weeks it has been removing the rail and cross-ties.

The line still has not been formally declared abandoned by the federal Surface Transportation Board. But the board has granted the nonprofit, the county and CSX an extension on certain legal deadlines to allow for more time to negotiate details.

Although they eventually want to acquire the eastern half of the corridor as well, officials with the non-profit say they'll first concentrate on completing the purchase and development of the western portion.

12:00 PM  

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