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Saturday, August 21, 2021

Citing recent train derailment, Ocala Downtown Business Alliance asks city to convert rail corridor into pedestrian, bike trail

In light of a recent train derailment that has allegedly left the downtown Ocala rail corridor in need of repair, the Downtown Business Alliance is asking the city to “take action” and convert the corridor into a “paved recreational and pedestrian/bicycle trail.” 

The request was made by Jon Barber, who serves on the alliance’s board, during the Tuesday, August 17 meeting of the Ocala City Council.

According to Barber, a train derailed at 9 a.m. on Saturday, August 14. 

“The train literally fell off the tracks because the underlying rail bed gave way,” said Barber.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Barber informed city council members that although he and a committee commissioned by the DBA have met multiple times to work on developing a plan of action to advance the idea, the derailment advanced their timeline.

“The recent derailment of the train on this corridor brings me to this meeting before we have finalized the detailed presentation that we had planned,” said Barber.

Train derailment in downtown Ocala Florida
Train derailment in downtown Ocala Florida

In email correspondence with Ocala Fire Rescue, Ocala-News.com was told that no calls were received during August 14 that pertained to a potential train derailment. 

Barber says he originally introduced the conversion idea in April 2020 during a meeting of the Ocala Marion Transportation Planning Organization. He asked the city to commission a study “to determine the feasibility of converting the active rail corridor running through downtown Ocala from a rail line to a pedestrian/bicycle trail corridor.” 

This year, the DBA subcommittee has been researching the “economic, cultural, educational, and health benefits” of a potential bicycle/pedestrian trail through downtown Ocala. The rail could potentially connect neighborhoods, businesses, hospitals, and ultimately, “the Cross Florida Greenway trail system,” according to Barber. He says there is “extensive data” in support of “recreational/alternative transportation trails in other communities” and that he believes Ocala and Marion County would see a huge benefit.

“We don’t expect you to take our word for it. We are asking the city to commit resources and to work with Marion County and the Transportation Planning Organization to commission a predictive economic assessment to help us estimate what this could mean for our community,” said Barber to council members. 

 Barber says that because of the derailment, the “entire track is in need of significant repair,” and that now is the “perfect time” for the city to take action. 

“The rail line serves a very limited number of customers…Let’s open a dialogue with CSX and FNOR before they deploy even more resources on an obsolete railroad to nowhere.”