Calls for Ramsey County to purchase the 4.5-mile-long Canadian Pacific Railway spur through the Highland Park and West End neighborhoods of Saint Paul are growing louder. The West Seventh/Fort Road Federation on March 14 joined the Highland District Council and Macalester-Groveland Community Council in pressing the county’s Regional Rail Authority to buy the dormant railroad spur as soon as possible.

The railroad right-of-way extends from Ford Motor Company’s former assembly plant to the area around the former Schmidt Brewery. Though it has not been used for years, the spur is not considered to be abandoned. However, a potential plan by the University of Saint Thomas and Ford site master developer Ryan Companies to construct a new hockey arena and ballfields on the site of an old rail yard at the west end of the spur has raised concerns that the rest of the railroad property could be sold off piece by piece.

Ford spur
The old Canadian Pacific Railway spur (shown in green above) is being eyed as the route of a 4.5-mile-long recreational trail between the old Ford site in Highland Park and the area of Saint Clair Avenue and West Seventh Street on the West End.

 

The Saint Paul City Council in 2018 approved a Reimagine the Ford Spur study which called for reusing the CP Railway spur for new biking and pedestrian trails and possibly a route for mass transit. Part of the right-of-way could be used for the proposed Riverview Corridor streetcar line that is currently being studied.

CP Railway is not commenting on the rail spur’s future. If the tracks are legally abandoned and the land sold piecemeal to adjacent property owners, public use of the right-of-way would be lost.

“Our neighborhood is bordered by high-speed roadways (Shepard Road and I-35E) and bisected by very busy West Seventh Street,” said Casey Carmody, who chairs the West Seventh Federation’s Transportation and Land Use Committee. “It’d be nice for us to have a longer recreational trail.”

Federation president Dana deMaster said she often bikes to and from Highland Park on Randolph and Montreal avenues. A repurposed rail spur would provide an attractive alternative, she noted. It could also be linked to bike routes that run to and from downtown Saint Paul. “As someone who bikes for her main mode of transportation, (the rail spur) would be a game-changer,” she said.

 

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Ramsey County commissioner and Regional Rail Authority chair Rafael Ortega has said the county has not taken a position on the CP Railway spur’s future. However, he believes the county is in a good position to work on the issue when the time comes.

Railroad companies have to follow a process laid out by the federal Surface Transportation Board before railroad property can be declared abandoned and put up for sale. At any time during that process, another entity could acquire the property.

— Jane McClure

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