Mon, August 16, 2004

Kentucky Abandoned Railbeds

During the Kentucky Rails to Trails Council (KRTC) meeting tomorrow (Tuesday) at 6:30pm, Lisa Brownell will do a presentation on her work on the Kentucky Abandoned Railroad Corridor Inventory. She will describe abandonments that have good potential to become rail-trails. Lisa is a gifted presenter and this should be a informative and enjoyable talk.

KRTC meetings are open to all KRTC members and interested rail-trail supporters. Meetings are held at the Lexington Fayette Co. Urban Co. Government Building at the corner of Main St. and Martin Luther King Blvd. (next to the Kentucky Theater) in Lexington, Kentucky. Parking is available across the M.L. King viaduct behind the Police and Driver’s Registration.

Tue, June 29, 2004

All aboard for Kentucky rails-to-trails

Today’s Lexington Herald-Leader had two informative and postive articles about rail-trails in Kentucky. It’s exciting to see people discussing rail-trails and their health benefits.

The first article describes how initial opposition turned into enthusiasm for a rail-trail in Muhlenberg County. I enjoyed hearing Muhlenberg County Judge-Executive Rodney Keith Kirtley, who is quoted in the article, speak at the 2004 Kentucky Rails to Trails Conference. He is a gifted speaker and very optimistic about rail-trails in Kentucky.

From the article:

When Muhlenberg County officials unveiled plans to turn an unused railroad right-of-way into a public walking and biking trail, property owners along the route ran roughshod over the idea.

What a difference a couple of years can make.

The 6-mile trail between Greenville and Central City, which opened in 2002, has become one of the most popular projects the county has ever undertaken, Kirtley said. And, he said, it’s starting to help county residents shed pounds and become more healthy.

Interestingly, Kirtley said, some of the trail’s most vocal critics have become its most ardent supporters.

“The funny thing is that within a month after the trail opened, a lot of the people who had fought it were out there walking,” he said. “The very gentleman who started all the petitions and everything, he bought a bicycle and started riding the trail every day.”

The second article emphasizes the physical fitness problems of rural Kentucky and mentions that rail-trails can provide safe recreation areas:

In many rural counties, finding a place to exercise is a major roadblock.

Many once-quiet country roads are abuzz with traffic today and are too narrow for safe or pleasant walking. Fitness centers outside of town are almost unknown. One of the ironies of the obesity epidemic is that the once-sturdy country farmer — who is more likely today than a generation ago to be overweight, thanks to labor-saving machinery — might have to drive to town to find a place to exercise.

But finding a place in many smaller towns can be tough. Many lack places for indoor exercise or walking, or even commercial programs, such as Weight Watchers. Even when such places or programs are available, many working families might not be able to afford them, officials say.

“For every dollar we spend on ourselves for fitness, we’re paid back threefold in better health,” said Theresa Scott, extension agent in Floyd County, which launches its Get Moving program today. “That’s a good investment, but it can be tough when you’re already making car payments, buying kids’ braces, and all that. One thing we really need is affordable facilities to promote exercise.”

Sounds promising for rail-trails to me.

Tue, December 09, 2003

History of Young’s High Bridge

I’ve been researching the history of Young’s High Bridge. Like the High Bridge, this is a railroad cantilever bridge crossing the Kentucky River. Young’s High Bridge, also called the Tyrone Bridge due to its close proximity to Tyrone, Kentucky, was constructed in roughly six months during 1889. A somewhat spindly looking bridge, it never received much railroad traffic, certainly not as much as High Bridge. The bridge has never been strengthened or modified, but remains today as it was orginally constructed. With its elegant angles it is a delightful bridge to view. The last train crossed the bridge in November 1985. The railroad lists the bridge as out of service and has abandoned the line.

I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with Jodie Wells, a Bluegrass Railroad Museum member, and the president of the Tyrone Bridge and Rail Company, a non-profit organization working to save the bridge. They are seeking to get the bridge listed on the Historic Landmark Registers in order to make it eligible for federal and state preservation grants. They are also raising money that they hope will one day help make the historic bridge a tourist attraction and state park. She points out how difficult it would be for a private organization to handle the liability on the bridge, but that it would be a different issue altogether as a state park.

With the nearby Wild Turkey bourbon distillery, and miles of abandoned line, this would make a beautiful biking and walking trail. Wells points to a similar project in Pennsylvania that she uses as a model: the Kinzua bridge and park. The Kinzua bridge was unfortunately partially destroyed by a tornado shortly after the start of a multi-million dollar strengthening project earlier this year, pointing out the urgency for preserving these aging structures. See the Kinzua Bridge Foundation for more details.

If the Tyrone Bridge and Rail Co. are not able to raise the necessary funding, there’s a good chance the bridge will be destroyed. Wells estimates that they need to raise a $5 million endowment as a starting point. Although that’s a significant amount, it may not be so unreasonable when you consider that cost estimates for taking down the bridge are in the $1 million range.

“I’ll guarantee you this,” Wells says, “if we can’t do it, it won’t be done.”

To contribute to the endowment or for more information write the Tyrone Bridge and Rail Co., P.O. Box 1202, Versailles, Ky. 40383.

Fri, December 05, 2003

Historic High Bridge color photos

The Elmer L. Foote Lantern Slide Collection has a number of pictures of High Bridge, including some of its original construction and some of the reconstruction. The collection is fairly large and includes many waterfall pictures as well as pictures of various mountain folk. The High Bridge photos begin around number 80 in the collection. Don’t miss slide 81 which shows the reconstruction of the bridge from near the stone towers. Slide 91 shows the completed bridge from the towers.

The pictures in this collection were taken by Foote, who was a Cincinnati photographer and public library staff member. His pictures appeared in the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune. Many of the slides are hand-tinted, which lends an almost color photograph feel. I love that the Kentuckiana Digital Library is making these pictures available.

Tue, December 02, 2003

Transportation trails in Kentucky

On November 19, I attended a meeting of the transportation advisory committee for the Jessamine County portion of the US 68 widening project. Part of the discussion was about what pedestrian and bicycling facilities needed to be included in the project. Kentucky Transportation Cabinet policy requires that these facilities be considered in every construction project.

The advisory committee ended up recommending that the road include wide shoulders for bicycle use from Lexington up to Catnip Hill road. At that point, the old Harrodsburg road will be used as both a bike route and for automobile traffic—it is expected that far fewer cars will be using the old road. The bicyclists and pedestrians will then join a shared use path for non-motorized vehicles only. It will cross under US 68 using a new tunnel (almost 150 feet long). The path will continue along Harrodsburg road up to KY 29.

I was a little surprised that most of the bicycle advocates wanted wide shoulders and to stay on the road. I was much more interested in the possiblity of a path along the road that could be used for various forms of exercise, including walking, running, strolling, biking, and skating. Walking beside a four lane highway on a shoulder isn’t that enjoyable. The advisory committee doesn’t want this to look like an interstate highway, so concerns for preserving the beauty of Harrodsburg road using grass shoulders won out. This led to recommending a separate 12 foot wide path. Similar concerns meant that we get a tunnel instead of a bridge crossing the road.

I was thrilled with the strong support of a number of bicyclists and those friends of rail-trails. It would be wonderful to be able to bicycle from Lexington to High Bridge along safe trails. There’s still work to be done to make that a reality. Wilmore would need to extend its existing trail from the veteran’s center out to Ky 29. And there’s the High Bridge rail-trail that would provide the last portion from Wilmore to High Bridge.

I’m excited about the future possibilities. I’ve dreamed of biking to work from Wilmore, but the present road conditions make it unsafe. The new path is a dream come true. Having this path may help tourism in Jessamine county and those living along Harrodsburg Road will also enjoy it.

Fri, September 26, 2003

So many standards

Alana posted the old story about how the US standard railroad width of 4 feet 8½ inches is derived from the Roman chariot’s width. It’s a fun story about how government specs live forever. Go read it and then come back for my Paul Harvey impersonation.

While it’s true that the modern standard gauge in the US matches the British gauge, it wasn’t always obvious that that would be the case. For quite a while the 5-foot gauge was popular, especially in the South. In various parts of the country, gauges varied from 2½ all the way up to 6 feet. It wasn’t until the end of the Civil War and the need for the reconstruction of the South that it became obvious that a standard gauge was needed. Even then, although most of the North was using 4′8½″, the need for many railroads in the South to interconnect with the Pennsylvania Railroad led to moving the entirety of the South to the Pennsy standard of 4′9″. It wasn’t until years later that the popularity of the current standard gauge won out. Now you know.

You can read much more about this in the article “The Days They Changed the Gauge” from the August 1966 Ties magazine. The article tells the story of the dramatic change over of an estimated 11,500 miles of track to the 4-foot 9-inch gauge in just two days of May 1886.

As an aside, I find it surprising to myself that this is the first post by Alana that I have commented on. Perhaps I’ll just say that I’m still thinking about her post on ritual and Seraphim’s comments about it. So true.

Kentucky’s abandoned railroad lines

I’m thrilled to announce that there is now a website for the Kentucky Abandoned Railroad Corridor Inventory. Packed with beautiful pictures, clear and accurate maps, and abandoned line descriptions, the site is a joy to read. Especially enjoyable are the highlighted lines. Having driven past some of them, and having enjoyed similar trails in Ohio and Michigan, I can visualize how wonderful they would be converted to bike trails. You can also get the full report in PDF format.

The abandonment inventory is a great tool for rails to trails organizations. Of the roughly 1,200 miles of abandoned lines available in Kentucky, only about 15 miles have been converted for trail use. This means Kentucky ranks 47th in the states in terms of rail-to-trail conversions. Only Delaware, Alaska, and Hawaii have fewer miles. I hope that this inventory will help others see the possibilities and that we will soon be able to celebrate many more rail-trails in Kentucky.

Wed, August 06, 2003

The Rathole Division

For a while now I’ve been trying to determine exactly when the old railroad bed between Wilmore and High Bridge was abandoned. As I noted on the doubling the tracks page of my High Bridge history, I thought it was in 1929. I found a new source that seems to confirm that date.

The article 90 Years to “Daylight” in the August 1963 issue of Ties: the Southern Railway System Magazine is a fascinating look at the history of the section of the Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific (CNO&TP) Railway that gained the nickname the “rathole division”:

“That nickname once aptly characterized the middle section of the CNO&TP, where 27 tunnels helped the line traverse 160 miles of rugged mountain country between Wilmore, Ky., and Emory Gap, Tenn., and kept an assortment of civil engineers busy almost from the day the line opened for traffic.

Tunnels were numbered 1 through 27 (running from north to south). They ranged in length from 3,992 feet (tunnel No.2–Kings Mountain) to 189 feet (tunnel No.6). Trains traveled underground for five miles through these 27 tunnels.

Tunnel openings were designed to be approximately 15* feet wide and 20 feet high at the top of the arch. Some of the arches appeared almost round, some resembled flat topped triangles, others were more jagged in appearance. The blasting techniques of the 1870’s left something to be desired.

Trains thundered through the tunnels for almost a decade before the next abandonment about 1930. This was tunnel No.1 and it too was bypassed as a result of installing double track, this time near Wilmore, Ky.…”

There’s also a beautiful cover picture of High Bridge on the April 1948 issue and a two page spread of High Bridge in 1905 in the January-February 1981 issue.

Tue, July 29, 2003

How to develop rail-trails and greenways

Earlier this year I mentioned various resources for rail-trail development. Some of the more important links were broken when the Trails and Greenways Clearinghouse website was redesigned, so I thought I’d include the updated links and mention some new ones.

The Trails and Greenways Clearinghouse, provided by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy provides information about rail-trail benefits as well as rail-trail development. One of the best resources is the Secrets of Successful Rail-Trails book. Also useful are the Online Manuals, Reports and Fact Sheets.

Mon, July 14, 2003

2002 Kentucky Statewide Rail Plan

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) has recently issued the 2002 Kentucky Statewide Rail Plan. The plan is the result of an 18 month study that “identifies system-wide strategies and policies and conforms to the goals established in the Cabinet’s 2001 strategic plan, provides a vehicle to identify future rail issues to meet Federal Railroad Administration requirements for federal funding as such funding becomes available, and it serves as a valuable source of statistical information regarding rail transportation in Kentucky.”

“The plan should serve as a means of heightening awareness of the significance of rail transportation throughout the Commonwealth,” said KYTC Secretary James C. Codell, III. “It is important to note that our rail system is a major element of our transportation system in Kentucky. Rail carries approximately the same amount of freight as does our interstates.”

The Kentucky Statewide Rail Plan addresses the following three main parts:

  • Rail System
  • Rail Safety
  • Rails To Trails Program

I’m excited that one of the major goals of the plan is to promote rail system preservation. Much of the rails-to-trails language in the plan will be familiar to rail-trail supporters. The plan includes a discussion of the pros and cons for rails to trails projects, including the viewpoint of the railroads. There’s also brief descriptions of current rail-trail projects and rail-trail supporting organizations.

Go to the website for the 2002 Kentucky Statewide Rail Plan or go directly to the rails to trails chapter (needs Adobe Acrobat reader).

Wed, March 05, 2003

More High Bridge photos

The Nollau (Louis Edward) Railroad Glass Negative Collection has photographs of the bridge and station during the rebuilding, starting around photo no. 1123 of the bridges section. The quality of the online versions are not nearly as good as the ones I mentioned before.

The general structures page also mentions a photo of stairs on the side of a cliff. I suspect this was taken near High Bridge as well. And could this be the tunnel?

I also found a photograph of log rafts on the Kentucky River near High Bridge. It is from the Arthur Y. Ford albums at the University of Louisville.

Tue, February 25, 2003

Rail-trail How To Guides

The Rails-to-Trails Library provides many useful resources about how to build rail-trails. The Art of the Rural Trail Deal seems relevant to many Kentucky trails. The common theme in it and really all rail-trail work is to build lasting relationships and cooperate with other people and groups in the community.

By many accounts, the best book on creating rail-trails is Secrets of Successful Rail-Trails: An Acquisition and Organizing Manual for Converting Rails into Trails. The book is available online in various formats and can be purchased from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. The Guide to Creating a Greenway or Trail also contains practical and helpful information.

Sat, February 22, 2003

Wilmore Newsletter

The Wilmore Newsletter is once again available online and being updated reasonably frequently. I’m not sure why the link to past issues was removed. The old columns by the Mayor provide perspective and insight into our community. Those interested in the rail-trail will also enjoy his “Come out and play” column from the July 1998 issue.

Thu, February 20, 2003

Where’d that railroad go?

I just realized I haven’t mentioned the Kentucky Abandoned Railbed Inventory, which I expect will help us identify other potential railtrails like the one I mentioned yesterday. Sadly, their website has essentially no information about this fascinating project.

The project began with the creation of the Railtrail Development Office within the Department of Local Government by the 2000 Kentucky General Assembly. (See KRS 147A.250) The office is focused on preserving abandoned railroad right-of-ways in Kentucky and helping utilize them for public recreation. To that end, by June 2003 it will complete a study that inventories all abandoned rail corridors in the state and evaluate their suitability for railtrail conversion.

Last March, I had the opportunity to hear a presentation about this project by Lisa Rainey, a graduate student at the University of Kentucky who is working on it. She apparently also presented a paper at the 2002 Association of American Geographers conference about challenges of designing useful critera for the railbed inventory. Her description of the process of creating the inventory made me suspect that she had my dream job: it’s a mixture of historical research and first-hand field inspections to verify that there is indeed something there. She said that many of the early maps had been significantly inaccurate, making it even more rewarding to finally find that suspected tunnel, old station foundation, or railroad debris.

I’m looking forward to seeing the inventory. Based on the pictures and information she conveyed in her brief presentations, it should be fabulous.

Wed, February 19, 2003

Wilmore–Burgin Rail-trail?

Well, what d’ya know! I was looking at a topo map the other day and noticed that the High Bridge–Wilmore Railtrail may have a sister on the other side of the river. I suspected that since the railroad had relocated when it doubled the tracks in Jessamine County, it might have needed to do the same in Mercer County. The map shows a dotted line nicely labeled “Old Railroad Grade” that starts near the powerplant and continues on toward Burgin. It looks like about 3 miles of abandoned line. The abandonment begins about 1 ½ miles from High Bridge. I wonder if the bed is still intact.

Sat, February 15, 2003

Kentucky Bourbon

In doing research for another rail-trail, I came across a delightful article on Kentucky Bourbon which was published in Louisville Magazine. It begins:

Fast horses, gorgeous women and potent bourbon are trademarks of the Bluegrass State. You can find out all you need to know about the first two at Churchill Downs on Derby Day, but for an inside look into the latter, we recommend a road trip.

The article describes visits to four major Kentucky bourbon distilleries. I’ve not yet had the opportunity to visit them for a tour, but think it would be a lot of fun.

I had been curious about the history of Austin Nichols’ Wild Turkey distillery near Tyrone because a potential rail-trail begins there. See the Anderson county trail description on the Kentucky Rails to Trails Council website. Be sure to look at the pictures of the massive railroad bridge there, too.

The bridge, known as Young’s High Bridge, or the Tyrone bridge, is occasionally mistaken for the High Bridge despite their obvious differences. The Bluegrass Railroad Museum has a page about Young’s High Bridge and a page about its history.

The proposed rail-trail between Lawrenceburg and Tyrone would be wonderful. The line has recently been abandoned. The existing bridges provide terrific (and somewhat terrifying) views of the river and surrounding area. I heard that a group called the Tyrone Bridge and Railroad Company was planning to acquire the line. I believe they are somehow related to the Bluegrass Railroad Museum, but have been unable to find any more information about them. It would make a beautiful rail-trail.

Thu, February 13, 2003

History of High Bridge

I’ve been researching the history of the Kentucky River railroad bridge called High Bridge. I believe I now have the most comprehensive resource online about the history of High Bridge. It’s been an enjoyable project; I’ve done all of the research so far using online resources and have been amazed at how much historical information is available. I delight in the fact that all photographs of the construction and later rebuilding of the bridge are out of copyright, so we can use them freely. I will be expanding the High Bridge site with additional photographs and details as I continue my research. In the meantime, enjoy learning about what may be the most important railroad bridge in the Eastern United States.

Sat, February 01, 2003

High Bridge construction photos

Wow! I just found the High Bridge Collection, provided online by the University of Kentucky Libraries, Special Collections and Archives. The collection contains seven photos of the High Bridge railroad bridge during its construction in 1876-1877.

Another collection provided by the same library, the Nollau High Bridge Photographic Collection, claims to contain sixty photographs of the rebuilding of the bridge in 1910-1911. Based on the distinctive towers and appearance, I’d say that only pictures 33 through 60 are of High Bridge, Kentucky. I remember reading that they rebuilt High Bridge around the original bridge, using the same footings, with no disruption of railroad traffic, and raised the track almost 30 feet. These photos make it obvious how it was achieved.

You may also want to look at the related collections—Louis Edward Nollau took photos all over Kentucky. I found many interesting Kentucky historical sites, including a picture of the High Bridge railroad station and a number depicting the building of the new bridge approach embankment (see photos 8 through 20).

Fri, January 31, 2003

Jessamine county history

I just noticed that the Jessamine County Historical and Genealogical Society has a new website. Their old one was sadly out of date.

The historical society has put together some excellent resources and are actively working to preserve Jessamine county history and heritage. If you visit the Applebee’s in Nicholasville you’ll notice a number of historical photos of the area, including some of High Bridge and its railroad station. I hope I will be able to obtain copies of these for use on the website and in promotional materials for the High Bridge–Wilmore Rail-trail. (Thankfully all these photos are out of copyright.)

Wed, January 29, 2003

Regional transportation planning

The January 28, 2003 edition of the Lexington Herald-Leader had a front page article saying that under a proposed plan, Jessamine county would get a greater voice on the regional transportation panel. Jessamine has complained that it has no influence on the Lexington Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), the group responsible for transportation planning in Fayette and Jessamine counties, and points to the lack of even a study for a connector road between Interstate 75 and Nicholasville as an example. Jessamine has only 3 votes to Fayette’s 18. Under the proposal, Fayette county would cut its voting members on the MPO to 10. Jessamine would retain its three voting members. The new MPO would have seven Urban County Council members, the Lexington mayor, the Fayette judge-executive, an official from LexTran, the Jessamine judge-executive, and the mayors of Nicholasville and Wilmore.

These changes to the MPO could benefit rail-trails in Jessamine County. In a sidebar, the Lexington Herald-Leader described the role of the MPO like this:

The MPO establishes transportation policy for the region and prioritizes which roads should be studied, improved or built. In addition to roadwork, the MPO also works on energy-conservation planning and oversees ride-sharing, van-pooling and air-quality programs.

The MPO also establishes bikeways and facilities for the disabled. This year, the MPO has a budget of $37.7 million in federal, state and local funds.

Mon, October 28, 2002

High Bridge historical marker

Across Kentucky there are sites that are marked by gold and brown historical markers. I found Signs Of History, a website which includes descriptions and pictures of a number of them. I sent them information about the High Bridge historical marker and they graciously included many links to my rail-trail page. I’m returning the favor. I hope to supply them with pictures of the other historical sites and markers in the area, including the Bethel Academy marker at Asbury College.

Tue, September 17, 2002

High Bridge walking tour

I found a terrific article describing High Bridge in 1940. The article takes you on a “walking tour” around the village and tells you about the people and places you’d have seen at the time. The map related to the article is apparently missing, but even without it you can generally find your way around. The article is from the April 2000 issue of Kentucky Explorer magazine. As I continue to work on the rail-trail, I love finding out more about the history of the area.

Tue, July 23, 2002

Make room for the bicycles

According to a July 19, 2002 press release, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet will plan and build all new and reconstructed roadways with pedestrians and bicycles in mind:

Secretary of Transportation, James C. Codell, III recently signed the Pedestrian and Bicycle Travel Policy. This new policy will help guide the [Transportation] Cabinet’s evaluation of when, where, and how to include pedestrian and bicycle facilities as part of the overall transportation system. The policy guidelines give roadway planners and designers specific criteria for accommodating pedestrian and bicycle travel. Planners will bear in mind adjacent land use, existing pedestrian traffic, local bike plans, transit stops, and public input to determine the necessity for accommodating non-motorized travel.

This is great news for those that want to see additional facilities provided for bicycling, walking, running, and other non-motorized recreation. This type of planning combined with additional rail-trail development could help Kentucky build a nice interconnecting trail network.

Wed, July 03, 2002

Daniel Boone had a railroad

I just noticed that the Daniel Boone Rails to Trails group has a website. It looks like they are in the beginning stages and don’t have much content available yet. I’m looking forward to seeing a map soon. It’s nice to see more rails-to-trails groups springing up in Kentucky.

Tue, May 14, 2002

Hiking in Kentucky

The Kentucky Trails Association is promoting the development and maintenance of a Kentucky-wide system of hiking trails. They want to work with other groups having similar goals, such as rails-to-trails organizations.

Wed, April 17, 2002

Protecting the Palisades

For obvious reasons, the Nature Conservancy is seeking to acquire land along the Kentucky River that likely includes the abandoned railroad line. I hope we can work with them in protecting the land and developing the rail-trail.