Opening a rail line for freight purposes, between Shawnee and McAlester, is on the imminent agendas of many area organizers.

Opening a rail line for freight purposes, between Shawnee and McAlester, is on the imminent agendas of many area organizers.

City and state officials have joined with local business owners to find funding solutions. Shawnee City Manager Brian McDougal said the rail already exists, but requires restorative improvements.

“The line is actually by Union Pacific rail, and the A-OK [Arkansas-Oklahoma] rail has a draft lease between the Union Pacific and A-OK railroads,” he explained. “It’s probably 30 miles of track to Seminole and another 20 miles to McAlester.”

McDougal believes the line would help grow Southeast Oklahoma’s job base. Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation Gary Ridley supports that sentiment.

“I think everyone sees a benefit of opening the line,” he said, noting the issue is not lack of support, but ensuring there is a return on investment.

Ridley said a recent meeting at the Capitol focused on how best to rehabilitate the line. In addition to several local leaders, Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative members were present.

“Discussion centered around the possibility of a loan,” Ridley said.

Bill Ford, president of Shawnee Milling Company, gave an excellent presentation, according to Sen. Ron Sharp.

Sharp’s original idea was to utilize House Bill 2480, a bill concentrated on economic development through regional cooperation. He said progress was achieved at the meeting, though another route was ultimately favored.

“The governor and the secretary of transportation suggested that the quickest way to get this done was a rif [rail infrastructure finance] grant,” Sharp said.

Sharp said if Union Pacific gets “on board,” he is pretty certain the project can secure that low-interest rif loan, provided by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), to craft a “55 miles an hour railroad.”

Ridley detailed the governor’s interest.

“She said she would be more than willing to talk with someone from the Union Pacific to see what their long-term plans would be for the line,” he said.

A-OK President and CEO David Donoley said the FRA grant is only one of several options currently under consideration.

“TIGER grants, transportation grants, Small Business Administration,” he said. “Just really and truly, there are probably 12 or 15 avenues of how we could get some funding.”

Donoley, though, is not diving into funding just yet. He said the company is “trading paper” and the process has gone smoothly, but a transportation board approval of the lease can take four to six months.

“Once I get the lease in hand, we’ll start looking,” he said of the project’s detailed financing.

Interest in reinstating the rail gained significant traction when the Shawnee Economic Development Foundation pledged $5,000 to Dudley Hyde, an attorney given the task of reviving the project. Additional entities followed suit and officials noticed. Ford recently expressed the value of community involvement.

“If the right people get interested in this,” he said, “it could make a difference.”