Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

State's Rail System Still Vital to Business

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

State's Rail System Still Vital to Business

Article excerpt

Rusty rails in some areas of Oklahoma may lead the casual observer to the conclusion that railroads are a thing of the past.

Some of those railbeds, although used less frequently than in past years and on an irregular basis, are in better condition than they were 10 years ago, said John Dougherty, rail planning coordinator for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

"Basically, in the last 10 to 12 years, we have gotten a lot better system than we had," Dougherty said.

Oklahoma rail lines likely will never again carry any serious passenger-service trains other than a few sight-seeing cars on spur lines, but those rail lines still are important to business, commerce and agriculture in Oklahoma, Dougherty said.

Amtrack passenger train service was discontinued through Oklahoma from Newton, Kan., to Dallas in 1979.

There are some signs of growth in rail freight transportation services across the state despite competition from the trucking industry, he said.

The State of Oklahoma owns 615 miles of the total 4,002 miles of rail lines in Oklahoma. Most of it was bought after the demise of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad about 10 years ago. The remainder of state line is 70 miles of abandoned Missouri Kansas Texas Railroad lines in southwest Oklahoma in the area of Altus and Frederick.

"We are kind of in the rail saving business. Once we lose these lines, you could never afford to acquire the rights of way to build any more railroad lines. You could build the tracks and lay the roadbed OK, but you could never afford to acquire the rights of way again. It would just be too expensive to justify," Dougherty said.

The objective of the state owning the tracks is to put them back into use to serve Oklahoma communities. That is done by leasing the lines to operating railroad companies, he said.

"Basically, our primary leasee now is the Union Pacific Railroad. They operate what we call the north-south Rock Island line that comes from Kansas and goes through Enid, El Reno and Chickasha to Texas," Dougherty said.

"That was left in what we call 10- to 25-mile track, what we call class 1 and 2 federal track condition standards. They have come in, and, in the seven to eight years they have had it, made a considerable amount of improvements to the main line. There is definitely a difference in what has happened to the lines since they got hold of it.

"They are basically running about 40 to 49 mph down the track. They have rehabilitated a lot of miles on their own, and we have obtained some federal grants monies to help put materials into that track to try and get it up to what it should have been," he said.

Federal monies obtained by the state have been 70 percent-30 percent matching grants in which the operating companies are allowed to invest labor and machinery usage for the 30 percent match, he said. …

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