Thursday, August 19, 2010

Oklahoma lawmaker wants commuter rail

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Oklahoma could soon have a commuter rail transportation system to get people to and from work and ease travel, the Tulsa Beacon reports. 
State Rep. Charlie Joyner has been working to make that a possibility.
 Joyner met with representatives from Trinity Railroad Express, BNSF, Amtrak and Dallas Area Rapid Transit this week in Fort Worth to discuss the possibility of getting a commuter rail system in Oklahoma. He discussed the projected costs and pros and cons.


Joyner said currently Oklahoma has been a donor state contributing to other states' rail systems with our federal motor fuel tax.


"Out of every dollar generated from the federal fuel tax, 85 cents goes to us and 15 cents goes to other states' rail passenger services," said Joyner, R-Midwest City. "We could be using that 15 cents in our state towards a rail passenger system here."


Dave Herbert, Oklahoma's governor-appointed liaison for passenger rail systems, said that about half of the cost of the rail equipment and operation would be covered by Federal government dollars through subsidies and grants.


"The cities on the rail system have taxed themselves a half-cent sales tax to be part of the system. The Trinity Rail Express is a Regional Transportation system formed by the many cities and communities around Dallas and Ft. Worth. Some cities have already taxed themselves and are about five years from being fully operational. This shows the enthusiasm of the cities to be part of the system," said Herbert.


Joyner carried legislation last session to allow Oklahoma cities and counties to come together and form transportation authorities to be responsible for construction, maintenance, and operation of a transportation system that can include a turnpike, transit or railway system. This will allow transportation authorities to decide on what transportation projects they feel will benefit their areas.


"The first thing you have to understand about moving people - it doesn't make a profit. It's a quality of life issue. You can't run a railroad like business because it deals with quality of life," said Bill Farquar with the Trinity Rail Express. "It brings higher standards and quality of life to cities and towns because they want to be a part of a commuter rail system."


"It also will attract new businesses and citizens to Oklahoma, which will help the economy, lower fuel costs on individuals, increase tourism dollars and help the environment, so I think it would be a win-win situation for all. It sells itself," added Joyner.


Joyner said Oklahomans may get to experience commuter rail here in Oklahoma this winter or spring.


"We have talked about a demonstration train that would consist of four or five Trinity Rail Express cars coming to Oklahoma City, and running from Edmond to Oklahoma City carrying passengers that would normally ride the Edmond bus system to work in downtown Oklahoma City," said Joyner. "It would also allow legislators, city and county officials and all Oklahomans to see how a commuter rail system would work in the major cities in Oklahoma. It will give them a chance to experience for themselves what it would be like to have a commuter rail system in Oklahoma; then they can decide if it's worth it."


Joyner said many things have to be worked out in order for the demonstration to happen. It will be coordinated by Oklahoma Department of Transportation with approval of all parties involved, including Amtrak, BNSF and Trinity Rail Express.

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