1. Pinellas

Old rail tracks near Pinellas Trail spark legal battle

Grass grows over the old CSX tracks on the disputed property. (Ben Leonard | Times)
Published Jul. 8

ST. PETERSBURG — Land around rusty, broken railroad tracks near Tropicana Field forms a makeshift walking path toward the Pinellas Trail, and the City of St. Petersburg wants to connect it.

But the city is battling to block the owner of the half-mile railroad land, CSX, from selling it. Late last month, St. Petersburg filed a complaint in federal district court asserting that the city has the right to the land, which is next to municipal property.

"A piece of what they were talking about selling we already own," Mayor Rick Kriseman told the Tampa Bay Times. "That was kind of problematic. That's like you selling my house and collecting the money for it. It's like, 'Well, wait a minute. I own that.'"

In the short term, Kriseman said the city wants to use it as a bike and walking path and green space around it. In the long term, it could be a "great spot" for light rail that could go to the Tropicana Field site, he said.

Is an electric scooter the same as a bike? Florida law says yes, trail users say no

A pending sale of the land to developers could prevent the local leaders from making the trail or eventually building light rail on the land the city believes it has a right to. In 2014, voters shot down a light rail plan that would have connected St. Petersburg and Clearwater.

"The City has certain rights to the Railroad Segment under state and federal law by virtue of being a municipality, an abutting landowner, a purchaser, and having other concurrent rights" to the segment, the complaint said.

CSX has rail lines all over the Eastern United States and reported more than $12 billion in revenue in 2018. In a May 30 email, it told the city that it had reached a purchase sale agreement for the segment. The city's complaint said it was sold to an "undisclosed entity."

St. Petersburg says it has "continuously maintained and repaired portions of the Railroad Segment, without interruption" for longer than four years, which the city argues makes it entitled to the property under Florida law.

The 75-mile Pinellas Trail opened in 1990 and was originally built on old railroad tracks, according to Pinellas County's website. Roughly 1.4 million people used the walking and biking path that loops from downtown St. Petersburg all the way up and around to Tarpon Springs. The trail has some gaps that officials are working to fill, but has no gaps near the land at the center of the legal dispute.

The segment in question begins from the south side of 5th Avenue N and goes to Dr. Martin Luther King St. N. The segment provides a straight shot from 16th Street N near 5th Avenue to Central Avenue, right next to Ferg's Sports Bar. From there, a short underpass connects users to the Pinellas Trail right by Tropicana Field.

It is unclear when trains stopped traveling on the property in question. Amtrak passenger service between St. Petersburg and Tampa ended Feb. 1, 1984, and CSX removed the tracks, according to a 1988 St. Petersburg Times story. CSX still operates freight lines in Tampa Bay. These lines have been the subject of public plans to convert to commuter rail since the 1990s, though nothing has come to fruition. CSX currently needs land north of 5th Avenue in St. Petersburg for its operations, according to the email attached to the complaint.

The city took ownership of a CSX right-of-way to extend the Pinellas Trail from 34th Avenue South through Tropicana Field, according to a 2006 City Council resolution attached to the complaint. Before the city took ownership, the Trust for Public Land initially purchased the rail bed — which stretches towards downtown — for $4.75 million, the St. Petersburg Times reported in 2006.

The city says in the event of "abandonment" of a rail line, "title to the Railroad Segment must necessarily vest in the City of St. Petersburg," and is requesting a ruling saying so.

It also is requesting a judgement saying that CSX can't sell the land without permission from the Surface Transportation Board, a federal regulator.

In a June 5 letter, St Petersburg Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin requested that the Surface Transportation Board declare the rail segment suitable for other public use, specifically for trails. Tomalin also requested an order preventing "removal or destruction of potential trail-related structures" like bridges and tunnels, among other things.

"The corridor in question connects to Pinellas Trail — an existing and highly successful rails-to-trails conversion," Tomalin wrote.

Citing pending litigation, a CSX spokeswoman declined comment. Assistant City Attorney Bradley Tennant also declined to comment.

Times staff writer Josh Solomon contributed to this story.


  1. Authorities say school guardian Erick Russell, 37, pawned his sheriff's-issued firearm because he needed gas money. [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
    He also pawned magazines and body armor because he needed gas money, detectives said. He faces charges of false verification.
  2. Dr. Paul McRae was the first black chief of staff at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg. Dr. McRae died on September 13, 2019. He was photographed here in the Tampa Bay Times photo studio for the 2008 Dr. Carter G Woodson Museum's "Legends Honorees" gala. BOYZELL HOSEY  |  BOYZELL HOSEY  |  Times
    ‘His extraordinary example paved the way for so many others.’
  3. Neeld-Gordon Garden Center, open at this location since 1925, is closing on Sept. 28. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    The development of Pinellas County and the arrival of the big box stores helped hasten the store’s demise.
  4. Falo Kane, 32, of Clearwater, now faces four counts of sexual battery of a physically helpless person and a violation of probation charge, according to police. [CLEARWATER POLICE DEPARTMENT]  |  Clearwater Police Department
    Falo Kane now faces a total of seven counts of sexual battery of a physically helpless person.
  5. Tampa has a pilot program underway to test scooters. Clearwater could soon have one of its own. But if it's limited to downtown, who will use it? CHRIS URSO  |   Times
    The city’s plan is coming into focus, but there will be limitations.
  6. A car hangs from a crane after being removed for the water along the Howard Frankland Bridge Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019. Florida Highway Patrol
    The driver emerged okay but faces charges of driving with a suspended license.
  7. Marquis Scott, 20, is a former Northeast High School football captain who his family says was trying to turn his life around. Then he was fatally shot while riding his bike, according to St. Petersburg police. BOYZELL HOSEY  |  Courtesy of Scott family
    Marquis Scott, 20, was shot while riding his bike. The Northeast High School football captain was turning his life around, his family said.
  8. Rendering of the new Shore Acres Recreation Center that will replace the current structure at 4230 Shore Acres Blvd. NE, St. Petersburg Wannemacher Jensen Architects
    The long-desired project is praised, but some neighbors worry about its proposed height and a new entrance and exit on busy 40th Avenue NE
  9. Less than a month after being fired, former St. Petersburg Housing Authority CEO Tony Love wants the agency to give him a job running its development nonprofit at the same $157,000 salary. That offer, part of ongoing negotiations over his severance, was rejected by the agency's board.
    Tony Love’s attorney tells the agency that fired him he wants full salary and benefits through 2020. The board rejects his offer.
  10. John Jonchuck returned to a Pinellas County courtroom last month to attend a hearing about whether he was entitled to a new trial. A judge on Tuesday ruled that he is not. SCOTT KEELER  |   Times
    Jonchuck was convicted of first-degree murder in April. He dropped his 5-year-old daughter, Phoebe Jonchuck, off a bridge in 2015.