Railroad buyer eyes expansion

River railroad short line is latest sale by Potlatch

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The buyer of the St. Maries River Railroad said he plans to expand opportunities in the St. Maries area to complement the short line railroad's existing lumber haul operation.

The railroad, being purchased from Potlatch by the Richmond, Mo.-based Williams Group, runs 91 miles from Bovill to Plummer and employs 13.

Terms of the pending sales agreement, which has been filed with the Surface Transportation Board and is expected to be finalized in about a month, were not disclosed by neither party.

"We'll try to expand business," said Mike Williams, manager of the Williams Group, which owns three other short line railroads in Idaho, Missouri and South Dakota, including the BG&CM (Bountiful Grain and Craig Mountain) Railroad, formerly Camas Prairie, from Kooskia to Lewiston.

"We're hoping the synergies of those two work together because they're not very far apart."

Topping the list of possibilities, Williams said, may be opening a contract repair shop for rail cars and locomotives.

"The facility in St. Maries has such beautiful shops," Williams said, adding that he also buys, repairs and sells railroad equipment.

Williams has also shipped products such as peas for farmers in the Lewiston area. Shipping railroad ties is another option.

"There's a vast amount of opportunities to try," he said.

The railroad's main current focus is hauling finished timber products between St. Maries and Plummer to connect with the Union Pacific.

The sale is the latest transaction by Potlatch, which recently sold its particle board plant in Post Falls to Plummer Forest Products. The new owner is continuing to operate the facility as a particle board plant.

Jane Crane of Potlatch said both sales had to do more with Potlatch selling its non-core businesses than a reaction to the economy.

"The economy did not drive this," she said. "If someone was interested in making deal, we made a deal."

"Potlatch is a REIT (real estate investment trust), so neither of these were our core expertise. This (railroad sale) will allow us to focus on our plywood and lumber mill in St. Maries."

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