Commuter rail service in Oklahoma has been a topic of discussion for several years but those words could be getting closer to reality thanks to one Oklahoma lawmaker.
This week State Rep. Charlie Joyner met with representatives from Trinity Railroad Express, Burlington Northern, Santa Fe Railroad, Amtrak and Dallas Area Rapid Transit this week in Fort Worth to discuss the possibility of getting a commuter rail system in Oklahoma.
The meetings were designed to discuss the projected costs and the pros and cons of such a venture.
In a release issued on Friday Joyner pointed out that 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.
The hope is that legislators, city and county officials and all Oklahomans would get a first-hand look at how a commuter rail system works. Then they can decide for themselves if it's worth the cost or not.
The demonstration is still in the planning stages and will have to be coordinated by Oklahoma Department of Transportation with approval of all parties involved, including Amtrak, BNSF, and Trinity Rail Express.
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