Railroads Finding Niche in Transportation Market / with Long Haul

Article excerpt

Mileage of the state's rail system has been reduced as a result of the changing nature of the market - as is the case nationally - but it apparently is not the end of the line for railroads.

Rather, railroads are finding the niche in the transportation market that only they can fill, according to Jerry Chambers, Oklahoma Department of Transportation representative.

"Local service is converting to trucks, but long haul will remain with trains, and in my opinion it will grow," Chambers said. He also predicts growth in the passenger sector.

In the meantime, employment has been on the down-turn for at least two decades, as railroads change their course, government figures indicate.

Oklahoma Department of Commerce figures indicate that from 1985 to 1986 alone, the decline in employment was 10 percent. Since 1960, 4,000 railroad workers have lost their jobs and the industry's share of total transportation employment has fallen from 22.8 percent to 5.9 percent since 1960, according to the department.

Meanwhile, wages in the transportation sector claimed by railroad employees declined from 23.6 percent to 8.4 percent between 1960 and 1985, according to the department.

The department shows wages in this segment of the transportation sector were $100.7 million in 1985.

Average annual growth rates have fallen by an average of 1.2 percent, compared with a decline of 1.5 percent per year for the entire country.

Employees of class one railroads as of March 1985 stood at 2,479, according to the Association of American Railroads, with average compensation for class one railroad employees at about $35,000 a year. Class one railroads are those that have $88 million in annual revenues or more.

Short haul - generally class three - employment and figures were not provided.

Disadvantages inherent to a system that cannot change routes easily as markets fluctuate, and poor rail car availability have contributed to the decline in railroads - all at a time when rates and energy efficiency are better by rail.

Even so, railroad mileage delcines are largely due to their changing role - not their pending demise, Chambers said.

"Rail service's role is - instead of the specific service to all types of commerce - to basically provide long haul service for bulk commodities: wheat, coal, automobiles, large out-sized commodities and heavy commodities.

"Local service once provided by railroad is provided by truck now," he said.

"But railroads still play a very major part in the total transportation system in this country," Chambers said. "As a rule of thumb, we normally move about 350,000 cars on the 4,400-mile rail system (in the state). About 22 million gross tons of cargo are moved into and out of the state by rail.

"As an indication, it would take about a million trucks to haul that cargo without the railroad," he said. …