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Arkansas Reader Railroad could reach North Texas

By The Associated Press

This article was published April 5, 2011 at 7:13 a.m.

— Arkansas' historic Reader Railroad could soon be steaming into North Texas if the pieces fall into place for one town.

Bonham, a city of about 10,000, has been pushing for several years to establish a steam-powered, short-line railroad to draw tourists from the Dallas area, about 70 miles away.

Since 2008, its primary suitor has been the Reader Railroad.

"At the point that the railroad is restored for use as a passenger train, we have an interest in helping them develop facilities for passengers, such as stations and that sort of thing," said Richard Grigsby, who owns Reader Railroad. "And, of course, we have several different trains."

Glenn Taylor, director of the Bonham Economic Development Corp. and president of the Fannin Rural Rail District, said the move will be a good fit for both parties.

Bonham has an unused stretch of railroad track and a need for economic development. The Reader Railroad has several antique steam engines and no riders. It is based in a community of 82 about 20 miles east of Prescott, Ark.

The combination of the railroad's history and the population in northern Texas, Bonham sits within 90 minutes of 6 million people, could yield 100,000 riders by the second year, Taylor said.

Add to that a minor twist: Fannin rail district board member Tom Long is the son of the man who operated the Reader Railroad for two decades before selling it to Grigsby 31 years ago.

The plan hinges on a much-delayed agreement between Union Pacific, the Texas Department of Transportation and the rail district over the use of a 1.28-mile stretch of track just outside Bonham city limits. The stretch would give the city about 8 miles of track stretching to the east on which to operate a tourist train.

Taylor said the agreement should be wrapped up within a couple of months, after which Bonham would pursue a formal agreement with Reader.

"If they was to do that, they'd probably move all of it here," he said.

Reader Railroad is an Arkansas institution. Built in 1889 as the Sayre Narrow Gauge, it carried timber from the area around Reader, which sits on the Ouachita-Nevada county line, and Gurdon.

It was renamed for the town of Reader in 1925 and carried timber and freight until the mid-1950s, when it was sold and began carrying passengers as well as freight, according to the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

In 1980, after a period of decline, the line was sold to Grigsby, who turned it into a tourist attraction. It carried about 100,000 people before being shut down in 1991 because of federal safety regulations.

Since then, Grigsby's business has shifted to the movies. Reader's century-old steam engines have appeared in several films, including "There Will Be Blood," "3:10 to Yuma" and the 2010 remake of "True Grit."


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LevitiCuss says... April 5, 2011 at 9:02 a.m.

Trains rock and tourism trumps frakkin' gas, if you're looking for a revenue generator that doesn't foul your air or groundwater. And when the movies come to use your train, that's just icing on the cake. Those people usually spend more money during their visit than your typical tourist.

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