Supporters of keeping Sooner Subdivision Rail Line in state hands share message at state Capitol

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - About 20 supporters of keeping the Sooner Subdivision Rail Line in state hands took their message to the south plaza of the state Capitol Wednesday.

Shouting "No sale of state-owned rail," the group discussed the importance of keeping 97.5 miles of rail between Tulsa and Oklahoma City in the state's possession.

"If the state sells the line, then the citizens of Oklahoma lose control, and we're entirely dependent upon whoever the purchaser is," said Rick Westcott, Chairman of Tulsa Passenger Rail Advisory Committee. "If we retain ownership, then we get to say what we want on the line."

Westcott and others went door-to-door in the Capitol, hoping to spread their message to members of the state Legislature.

At the same time, Oklahoma Department of Transportation says a committee is reviewing two bids from companies -- BNSF Railway Company and Stillwater Central Railroad/Watco Companies -- that want to purchase the nearly 100 miles of rails, spikes and ties.

That evaluation committee will make a recommendation to the Oklahoma Transportation Commission on what it believes ODOT should do with the rail line.

"The three options that will be considered at this point appears to be the two rail lines of course that are remaining and then also a no sale option," said Terri Angier, ODOT's marketing and public relations chief.

Angier, who says private ownership of the rail does not rule out passenger rail service, added that ODOT placed provisions pertaining to passenger rail service for companies making bids.

"No matter who owns it -- whether we own, whether it gets back into the private hands -- we are making provisions in there, very strict provisions, that passenger rail have a place in our state between Oklahoma City and Tulsa if and when this line changes ownership," she said.

Tulsa's city council unanimously supports ODOT keeping the line, while Mayor Dewey Bartlett has been in favor of ODOT selling the line to a private company.

Bristow, Norman, Oklahoma City and Sapulpa each said they support ODOT retaining the line.

Sale of the rail could be about $9 million, according to Angier.

The evaluation committee will make its recommendation to the OTC in a public forum May 5.

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