Rock Island Railroad

Stories that have any connection to the railroad that operated in Arkansas from 1902 to 1980, when the bankrupt railroad was shutdown.

Rock Island Choctaw Station
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Former employees of the Rock Island Railroad joined officials from the Clinton Foundation and Clinton School of Public Service Monday, August 29, to unveil a vintage sign attached to the brick facade of what was the railroad’s longtime Little Rock passenger station. Today the two organizations, aligned with Bill Clinton’s neighboring presidential library, have offices in the restored building.

The structure was built in 1899 by the Choctaw, Oklahoma & Gulf Railroad, which was absorbed by the Rock Island during a hostile takeover in 1904. From the time of the building’s opening until the railroad stopped passenger service in 1967, "hundreds of thousands, millions of people I would imagine have come through this station," said Skip Rutherford, dean of the school, which is part of the University of Arkansas System. 

Rock Island Clinton Presidential Park Bridge Bill Clinton
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Former President Bill Clinton led a dedication ceremony Friday in Little Rock for a new $10.5 million pedestrian and cycling pathway over the Arkansas River, which was built inside an old railroad bridge. He was joined by his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, daughter Chelsea, and the mayors of Little Rock and North Little Rock.

"This bridge is important because first, it keeps the promise we made," Clinton told the crowd. "We came up with the money that turned out to be two and a half times what the original estimate was to complete this trail loop.  It’s important.  I’m proud of it."

It was originally hoped that work to renovate the bridge, which was built in 1899, would be completed in time for the dedication of the Clinton Presidential Center in 2004.  But increasing costs led to it being repeatedly delayed.

Michael Hibblen / KUAR

Includes personal reflections by KUAR's Michael Hibblen.

Work is finally getting underway to renovate the 111-year-old Rock Island Bridge adjacent to the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock. Former President Bill Clinton is to lead a groundbreaking ceremony Friday morning at the bridge, which at one time was slated to be torn down.

The pledge to renovate the railroad bridge was made nine years ago, but beginning the work was repeatedly delayed, prompting some to wonder if it ever would happen. Now, after securing funding from numerous sources, the $10.5 million project is finally ready to get underway.

“We are standing at the foot on the south side of the Rock Island Bridge, now known as the Clinton Park Bridge.  It was renamed last week by Little Rock City Board of Directors," said Clinton Foundation spokesman Jordan Johnson.

It will serve as the eastern end of the 14 mile river trial.

“This will be a ramped pedestrian bridge, completely ADA compliant," said Jordan.  "We're looking at the trusses here and there will be, in essence, a bridge built inside the existing structure.  So we're going to preserve the existing structure, but also build a footpath through it that will level off at the lift span and then gradually go back down to the North Little Rock side."

Rock Island
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A battle is brewing in Saline County between community leaders who want to build a highway over an abandoned railroad bed and homeowners who say it would encroach on their property.  It would provide another route connecting Benton and Little Rock.

Walking on a clear path where tracks once carried the trains of the Rock Island Railroad, Irene Thompson said, "Looking at it, it's unbelievable isn't it?" But she and her husband Tommy dread the thought of a highway being constructed on their property.

“If they build this highway in here then we’d have a straight shoot from Little Rock trouble to Benton trouble and we just really don’t want that kind of crap coming down here,” said Tommy Thompson.

The couple has lived there nearly half a century and bought a small stretch of the Rock Island right-of-way, which bordered their property, after the railroad went bankrupt and was shut down in 1980.