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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

Daily passenger rail service between Midwest City and Sapulpa could come as early as this fall under a $75 million sale approved unanimously Monday by the Oklahoma Transportation Commission.

Dedicated shuttle service would enable passengers to get from the ends of the line to locations in and around Oklahoma City and Tulsa, according to the proposal submitted by purchaser Stillwater Central Railroad, LLC.

Company officials said they hope eventually to reach agreements with other railroad companies that would allow railroad passengers to travel by train all the way from downtown Tulsa to downtown Oklahoma City.

Intermediate stops are planned for Bristow and Stroud.

The deal is expected to close in July.

“We believe in Oklahoma customers,” said Richard Webb, chief executive officer of Stillwater Central, which is buying the Sooner Subdivision railroad line from the state. “We are proud to be a part of the Oklahoma economy.”

The company has been operating the 97.5-mile line under a lease agreement with the state since 1998. Webb said the company started out with virtually no railroad cars on the line in 1998 and has built freight business to the point it expects to have 30,000 railroad cars travel the line in 2015.

Stillwater Central, in cooperation with the Iowa Pacific Holdings railroad company, experimented by running three passenger excursion trains on the line in February and “all three trains sold out within 10 days,” company officials said.

The company said it does not plan to ask for a government subsidy to provide passenger service.

The $75 million the state receives from the sale will go into the Railroad Maintenance Revolving Fund where it will be used for such things as maintaining and improving state-owned railroad lines and railroad crossings, said Mike Patterson, executive director of the Oklahoma Transportation Department. Some of the money also could be used to purchase other railroad lines if private companies go bankrupt or decide to abandon lines, he said.

While the anticipated return of daily passenger service between Oklahoma City and Tulsa after a 40-year absence is attracting much of the attention, Stillwater Central’s plans to expand freight service for the energy industry and other businesses is generating excitement, as well.

Stillwater Central’s proposal calls for spending $101 million for a Cushing rail spur that should expand the ability to ship crude oil in and out of that energy hub.

“We believe in the energy sector in Oklahoma,” he said. “And it’s not just on the Sooner Sub. There are also opportunities in Western Oklahoma, as well. One of the fastest growing parts of our business is the terminal side of our business.... We see tremendous opportunity into and out of Cushing.”

Stillwater Central said it is planning other infrastructure improvements to assist the expansion of such companies as T&J Marketing, a Chandler propane company; Mid-Way Environmental Services, a company that is developing injection wells in Davenport; and Timco Blasting and Coatings, a Stroud company interested in increasing the volume of hydrochloric acid it is moving, as well as bringing in additional sand used for developing oil and gas wells.

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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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