Union Pacific Railroad made the first step Thursday toward rerouting its tracks around Lawrence.
Lawrence Aviation Advisory Board chair Rick Bryant said railroad and airport officials met with the Federal Aviation Administration in Kansas City, Mo., where permission was given to proceed with the project.
"The FAA told us to partner with Union Pacific and proceed and see what hurdles and obstructions come up," Bryant said at the board's meeting at the Lawrence Municipal Airport.
The railroad company first suggested changing its route to the east of the city in early May after two accidents at railroad crossings killed three people.
"Union Pacific has had a public relations problem with the fatalities on their crossings, and they want to move the railroad line onto the north side of our property," Bryant said.
In the very initial planning stages, the proposed route would bypass the city and cut across the airport's property. To do that, the partners must also meet with Kansas Department of Transportation officials to discuss underpasses and the possibility of moving U.S. Highway 24.
The advisory board hopes that by pushing the highway to the south, it can extend its runways. The train spur also would facilitate the future business interests the board hopes to lure to the city-owned airport.
"What we have seen in the last 18 months is everyone wants to jump on the Lawrence bandwagon at the airport," Bryant said. "Right now we are turning businesses away, because we have infrastructure problems. We are on septic tanks now. We are pressing our city fathers for help to get sewer lines, but until then we can't build any new buildings."
Bryant said the board hopes an extended runway will lure more business jets to Lawrence, as well as opening up room for light industrial and aviation-related businesses.
The sewer and septic line problem could be resolved by the spring, leading the board to believe several businesses will move into the 45-acre complex.
Railroad officials said it has no timeline for the plan to move its tracks.
"We have not done any serious engineering work on it, though," Union Pacific spokesman John Bromley said. "There is a tentative route, but we have not committed to do anything. We are actively helping the city and the FAA plan it."
Advisory board and railroad officials will meet with KDOT planners in the coming weeks.