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
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
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
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. …