Owner of Fulton railroad spur wants to restore freight service

The Fulton railroad spur is overgrown with grass and weeds at a point just north of University Avenue in Fulton.

The Fulton railroad spur is overgrown with grass and weeds at a point just north of University Avenue in Fulton. Photo by Don Norfleet.

The owner of the short-line railroad between Mexico and Fulton says he plans to reopen the line if he finds enough interest for rail shipping in the Fulton area.

Mike Williams of Richmond, Mo., bought the 27-mile railroad spur three years ago from Kansas City Southern Railway Co.

Williams operates Ozark Valley Railroad, which owns other short-line railroads in other states. The firm also operates a railway salvage company.

Callaway County Western District Commissioner Doc Kritzer said he is pleased to learn that Williams wants to restore service to the line after tracks and bridges are repaired along the line.

Kritzer said Williams met with the newly formed Callaway County Transit Authority to inform them of his intentions for the rail spur. Kritzer, who attended the meeting, said he had feared earlier that Williams might want to sell the railroad tracks for scrap rather than restoring the line to service.

“We were told that Williams does not plan to sell the rail line and he wants to restore freight service to Fulton,” Kritzer said.

“I thought it was a very good meeting. It brought all of us up to date on what is going on with the rail line,” Kritzer said.

The railroad enters Fulton from the north, running parallel to Business 54 past William Woods University before turning west and crossing Westminster Avenue near West 9th Street.

About two years ago, Fulton, Callaway County and the Fulton Area Development Corporation funded a study of the railroad line between Mexico and Fulton.

The study estimated it would cost from $3 million to $5 million to renovate the line.

However, Williams said he believes he can restore the line by spending from $1 million to $2 million, which he plans to do with his own money if he can receive enough assurances from Fulton area firms wanting to ship freight and raw materials on the line.

Kritzer said he was pleased to learn that a major bridge on the line already has been repaired by Williams at far less than the $900,000 estimate in the city and county study. Kritzer said Williams lowers his operation costs because he does much of the repair work with his own firm and is able to use some materials and equipment obtained from the railroad salvage division of his firm.

Williams said his Ozark Valley Railroad owns several other short-line railroads in other states.

Potential users of the short-line railroad between Fulton and Mexico include Central Missouri Energy’s proposed biodiesel plant in Fulton on the Harbison-Walker property off Westminster Avenue and Mertens Construction Co. to transport rock and other construction materials. Other users include a clay processing firm known as Chiles Works, Fred Atkinson Farm Services, MFA Agribusiness, and A.P. Green Industries.

Williams said he wants to lower the cost of shipping as much as possible in order to attract more business volume. He wants some interest shown by potential users before investing to restore the line. “I feel good about this short-line. I believe it can be done,” Williams said.

Williams plans to build a side spur near Mexico to be used by railroads to store excess railroad cars. “There are a lot of excess railroad cars now,” Williams said.

Williams hopes to make enough money leasing railcar storage space to railroads to help offset costs of rehabilitating the line between Fulton and Mexico, Kritzer said.

Operating a short-line railroad needs cooperation in setting shipping rates between the short-line railroad such as Ozark Valley and a main-line railroad like Kansas City Southern.

Williams said the railroad tracks on a short-line railroad do not have to be in the same condition as main-line tracks because train speeds on a short-line railroad can be much slower than a main-line track.

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