Those of you that know me well know that I’ve long had an interest in all things railroad-related. I have a relatively extensive book collection ranging from railroad operations history to railway station design. I have ridden state-supported Amtrak, subways and tourist rail in the US and enjoyed various passenger rail systems in Europe. I also own (but currently store) various model trains. Tracking back my interest, I’d say I’ve been interesting in railroad operations, rather than mere train watching and model railroading, for over 15 years now. I’ve also had the chance to work with representatives from BNSF on trying to close a couple dangerous crossings and initiating development of a Quiet Zone in downtown OKC. This leads me to today’s post.
Legislation (HB 2180) has been passed by the Oklahoma House and Senate to create a new Oklahoma Railways Commission and rearrange responsibility for railroad oversight from the Department of Transportation to this new Commission. The House and Senate are currently (as of 7 May 2013) working on a conference committee solution to minor amendments adopted by the Senate. Once approved, the bill should go to Governor Fallin’s office soon. The original authors, Representative Joyner and Senator Schulz, should be commended along with all of their co-authors and those that voted to pass the bill. (Special kudos to Representatives Wood and Henke for emailing me back personally when I emailed support of the bill to all Representatives and Senators.)
This bill is a very positive step for Oklahoma. Rail traffic is increasing across Oklahoma, from through-freight on BNSF’s north-south line through Oklahoma City, oil-fueled growth on the Farmrail system in the Anadarko basin and on Kansas City Southern in eastern Oklahoma due to new coal mining activity. These traffic increases and calls for more passenger rail activity will cause rail to become a larger economic generator across Oklahoma. Furthermore, increased activity will create the need for more public input as the citizens of Oklahoma find themselves impacted by trains more often.
According to data from the Railroad Retirement Board, railroads directly employed 2,303 people in Oklahoma in 2011. The average wages and benefits per freight rail employee were $106,000 (data from the Association of American Railroads). Wages and benefits alone have a yearly financial impact of $244,118,000 in Oklahoma. Railroads provide significant economic benefit in employment alone. Furthermore, they carry much of the grain produced in Oklahoma, and are helping the energy industry manufacture and distribute supplies and raw materials across the United States. And, believe it or not, the AAR says Oklahoma was 2nd in the nation in 2010 for origination of crushed stone, sand and gravel (89,700 carloads).
The Oklahoma Railways Commission will create a focused agency that will help railroads thrive in Oklahoma and provide a more direct voice for the public when issues arise (or when they want more rail activity, particularly passenger rail).