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Union Pacific Railroad buys rail line from state of Oklahoma

Union Pacific Railroad's purchase of a rail line from the state of Oklahoma completes a lease-purchase agreement signed 30 years ago. The rail line runs mostly along U.S. 81 from the Kansas line to the Texas border.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Published: October 9, 2012

“I have to applaud the state of Oklahoma for what I think is just a brilliant, strategic decision to make — to preserve rail corridors,” he said. “I've been buying and selling property for the railroad for over 25 years, and it would be nearly impossible to replicate that rail corridor today.”

John Dougherty, head of the state Transportation Department's rail programs division, said most of the line would have been sold for scrap if the state hadn't bought the route 30 years ago.

“When the Rock Island went out, it left nearly 1,400 miles of abandoned track in Oklahoma,” he said.

Legislators and then-Gov. George Nigh appropriated money in 1980 and 1981 for the state to buy critical rail corridors, Dougherty said.

“The one north-south corridor is the one they picked,” he said. “The state of Oklahoma would have really liked to have saved more areas, but we just didn't have the money so we had to pick and choose on what would be the most critical.”

Union Pacific has spent more than $100 million maintaining and upgrading the line, Love said.

Ridley said the railroad company took good care of the line.

“It is a very valuable corridor for them,” he said.

Love said trains using the line carry a variety of freight across the state. The north-south line is a route favored by oil and natural gas companies operating in the Anadarko Basin. Trains deliver sand and pipe used in the hydraulic fracturing process.

The railroad outlook is much better than 30 years ago, he said.

“Rail is good right now because we are a very fuel-efficient means of transportation,” Love said. “We are getting a lot of conversion from truck to rail, which is good for the highways because it takes those trucks off and the weight.”