Wisconsin engineer buys White City railroad

A shortline railroad that runs just 12 miles between White City and the Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad north of Central Point has a new owner.

Until this week, White City Terminal Union Railway was an unknown speck on Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathway balance sheet. Now it is the prize possession of Scott B. DeVries of Superior, Wis., an engineer for the Canadian National Railway.

"He's always been interested in trains," Scott's wife Laura DeVries said this morning. "He's wanted to own a railroad and this was his dream."

She said her husband was on the job, which frequently takes him on runs in southern Wisconsin and up to International Falls, Minn.

"He saw how much potential it had and its growth potential," Laura DeVries said.

She said her 30-year-old husband had been working with a railroad consultant in his search, but hadn't put together a deal until the WCTU opportunity "with a motivated seller" came along.

The sale was spurred by a Surface Transportation Board decree requiring Berkshire Hathway unit Marmon Transportation Services to divest itself of two shortlines by Dec. 31.

Berkshire sold its 9.6 million shares of Union Pacific Corp. and 1.9 million shares of Norfolk Southern Corp. to avoid problems with regulators when it acquired BNSF in February 2010. However, it overlooked WCTU holdings and one other smaller line and informed the regulatory board of the oversight in September. WCTU was owned by Railserve Inc., part of the industrial conglomerate Marmon Holdings Inc., controlled by Berkshire since 2008.

Scott DeVries flew to Oregon in November to check out WCTU Railway.

"He went out with low expectations," Laura DeVries said. "He looked at the financial statements and wasn't thrilled. He thought it was a line that wouldn't benefit him. But when he got out there, he saw the potential."

He formed RVTR Rail Holdings in anticipation of the purchase.

Unlike the past, ownership will be hands on. The DeVries plan to move to the Rogue Valley in the spring and have indicated engineers Charles Thompson and Nikki Cosgrove will continue with the company.

Laura DeVries said her husband would like to put in heavier rails to service customers such as Boise Cascade.

"He saw spurs going into other business properties that aren't customers," she said. "We want them to be our customers."

— Greg Stiles

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