Herald JournalHerald Journal, Dec. 29, 2003

Tracks on railroad line to be removed

By Ryan Gueningsman

rough the communities of Lester Prairie and New Germany, but there haven't been any trains passing through either town for several years.

About two years ago, the railway property was sold to the counties of Hennepin, Carver, and McLeod in a joint venture. The rail authorities in all three counties worked together to purchase the rail line from Rail America for approximately $6.5 million, reported the Herald Journal last year.

During the last two years, a commission was formed to keep options open about the rail line, according to Gary Erickson, the assistant county administrator for public works in Hennepin County. The commission was soliciting possible operators of the railway.

"We have not been able to find anyone to take it on and upgrade it," Erickson said. He noted that the commission felt it was important to keep the line intact from Wayzata to Hutchinson, in the event of other railroad operations.

Since no others have come forward, the plan is for the tracks to be lifted and for the line become a recreational trail ­ at least for the time being, according to Erickson. Carver and Hennepin counties both use the Three Rivers Park District for maintenance on their trails; it is unclear at this time what McLeod County will use, or if it will maintain a trail.

"We wanted to protect the right-of-way for possible future rail use ­ light rail or commuter rail," he said. Currently, the commission is going through the process of abandoning the railway.

There are several steps that are necessary in order to abandon the line, Erickson said.

First, the term abandon means that it will not be used for freight or transit rail travel.

In the middle of November, an environmental study was done, in addition to a history of the rail line being sent to the state.

A notice of exempt abandonment was filed recently, and Erickson said the abandonment will go into effect approximately the first week of March if all goes according to plan.

The railroad commission had also acquired the property on each side of the tracks, 25 feet per side.

"In some cases, the railroad owned a little more," Erickson said. Individual counties will retain the land, and will have to keep the center portion free for possible future use, he added.

The rest of that land will be available for leasing from the individual county in which it sits in, Erickson noted.

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