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Oklahoma Transportation Commission votes to sell rail line for $75 million

Stillwater Central’s deal could bring passenger rail service from Midwest City to Sapulpa by the fall.
by Randy Ellis Modified: May 5, 2014 at 9:01 pm •  Published: May 6, 2014

While a series of train wrecks across the country involving railroad cars carrying crude oil have caused public concern, Webb said railroads continue to be “one of the safest ways to move hazardous commodities in the country.”

The line Stillwater Central is purchasing currently is rated as a Class 2 line, which means railroad cars carrying freight have a speed limit of 25 miles per hour and cars carrying passengers have a speed limit of 30 miles per hour.

The sales agreement requires Stillwater Central to improve the track to Class 3 status within seven years, which would allow freight trains to travel up to 40 miles per hour and passenger trains up to 60 miles per hour.

The sales agreement also requires Stillwater Central to establish a six-month trial run of daily passenger rail service on the line within the next five years. The company is free to establish its own schedule and ticket costs and to decide whether to continue the program at the end of the trial period.

The company would be required to pay the state $2.8 million if it fails to start the pilot passenger service program within 5 years. It also would be required to give a passenger rail easement back to the Transportation Department if it is not operating passenger rail service after 10 years.

In its proposal to the state, Stillwater Central said that during the trial phase it plans to provide passenger rail service seven days a week, providing at least two round trips daily between Sapulpa and Midwest City.

After evaluating the results of the trial, the company said it reserves the right “to run as little as zero trains per day to as many as eight trains per day.”

A selection committee consisting of five of Gov. Mary Fallin’s cabinet secretaries recommended the Stillwater Central proposal to the Oklahoma Transportation Commission after comparing it to one other qualifying proposal that was submitted by BNSF Railway Co.

BNSF offered the state $25 million for the property, which was $50 million less than the winning proposal, and also was proposing to spend much less on infrastructure improvements.

State Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, tried to persuade the Transportation Commission to reject both proposals, arguing that the state had a valuable asset that would only increase in value.

“I have yet to speak to a single member of the House of Representatives that believes that the sale of this line is in the best interest of the people of Oklahoma,” Morrissette said. “I truly believe ... the people of Oklahoma do not want this line sold.”

However, state Rep. Jason Smalley, R-Stroud, issued a news release praising the decision to sell the property to Stillwater Central shortly after the decision was made.

“I am excited about this opportunity for the residents of Stroud as it will continue to add to the growth and stability for our city that we have seen over the last few years,” said Smalley, whose district includes Lincoln County and a portion of Logan County. “The Stillwater Central Railroad is a proven partner with the state and has worked hand in hand to help grow Stroud by attracting new businesses and jobs to our area.”

by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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