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AOK Railroad reconnecting track at McAlester

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WILBURTON, Okla. — Arkansas-Oklahoma Railroad Co., or AOK, is expected to complete bridge track over the North Canadian River this summer to re-establish a dormant section of railroad between McAlester and Shawnee, said Chad Donoley, AOK's vice president of marketing and government affairs.

The AOK, based in Wilburton, is a family-owned short-line railroad that operates a route along a 118-mile corridor between McAlester and Howe at the eastern state line. The company also has a long-term lease to use track owned by Union Pacific Railroad that extends west from McAlester to Shawnee, and that, in turn, links to more line into Oklahoma City.

Lately, the connection at McAlester has been inoperative because of a bridge that hasn't stood up well to the rain-swollen river. The AOK has repeatedly tried to shore up the banks since the mid-1980s, Donoley said, but erosion keeps causing problems. He said it is the only major rail connection in the state that is currently inoperative.

Shawnee Economic Development Foundation officials said the washout had far-reaching effects on economic development in Seminole, Wewoka, Holdenville, Calvin, Stuart and McAlester, because businesses in those areas were forced to default to road-based transportation instead of being able to choose between two modes.

"This connection will open commerce to some of the poorest parts of the state and will once again allow them to use a lower-cost form of transportation to move raw materials and finished goods," said Tim Burg, foundation executive director.

Burg and Donoley said the Citizen Potawatomi Nation is developing an industrial park in Shawnee that would benefit from restoration of the rail line and contracts are already in the works, but specific details were not immediately available Thursday.

Donoley said AOK has recently spent about $200,000 to prepare the foundation. Approval for the work is expected shortly from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he said.

Burg said that although there hasn't been any federal, state or municipal funding committed to repair the bridge, help has come from an unusual source.

"There have been some crazy, small things that have made a difference," he said. "The city of Shawnee had a large rubble pile of broken concrete and soil that they have let the Donoleys take out to the bridge area. There's also a large parking lot reconstruction project going on near the Expo Center and the contractor has been taking more broken concrete to the Donoleys.

"So one man's trash is another man's treasure when it comes to holding back a river," Burg said.

Information from: The Journal Record, http://www.journalrecord.com