The Edmond Sun

Opinion

June 13, 2008

I-40 plan may derail

EDMOND — In a remarkable turnabout, a federal agency has thrown a kink in the reconstruction of the I-40 Crosstown Expressway. The decision brings new hope for passenger rail service in Oklahoma, and headaches for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation in the face of soaring costs and dwindling resources.

The federal Surface Transportation Board, which succeeded the Interstate Commerce Commission in its 1995 reorganization, has jurisdiction over the railroad industry in this country, including line abandonments. In January 2007 the board was persuaded that the rail lines in downtown Oklahoma City had been abandoned for more than two years, triggering a federal regulation that allowed the lines to be expeditiously removed and clearing the way for the I-40 rerouting project.

As it turns out, the rail lines had not been abandoned. While construction began on the highway project, Ed Kessler of Norman filed a petition to reopen the abandonment decision. He presented evidence, including photographs, indicating BNSF and Stillwater Central Railroad trains still were using the line to serve businesses in the area.

The federal regulation is pretty cut and dried. If a rail line has been out of service for at least two years, the carrier easily can abandon the line through an expedited procedure. But that process depends on the truthfulness of the information submitted. If the application “contains false or misleading information,” federal regulations require the application to be rejected.

So, based on Kessler’s evidence and some of BNSF’s own admissions, on June 5 the board reopened its January 2007 decision and declared the application void. BNSF can file a new application to abandon the line, but that process will not be an expedited one.

Our national rail policy is “to ensure the development and continuation of a sound rail transportation system,” “to foster sound economic conditions in transportation and to ensure effective competition and coordination between rail carriers and other modes” of transportation, as well as to encourage and promote energy conservation and other goals.

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Poll

The runoff race for the 5th District congressional seat is set for Aug. 26. If the voting were today, which candidate would you support?

Al McAffrey
Tom Guild
Undecided
     View Results