Passenger Rail Issue - Did ODOT Drop The Ball?
"Why haven't we had passenger rail service from downtown[OKC] to downtown[Tulsa] up to this time? Because ODOT has misrepresented the facts," said Rick Westcott, Chairman of the City of Tulsa's Passenger Rail Advisory Committee.
The facts date all the way back to 1998, when ownership of a stretch of railroad changed hands.
"This is a contract signed by the secretary of transportation," he said.
That's the year when BNSF sold a section of railway between OKC and Sapulpa to the state. BNSF however, kept ownership of that final stretch that connected Sapulpa to Tulsa, which to many, looked like a roadblock for passenger service from T-town to OKC.
"We always believed from what ODOT told us that Sapulpa was the end of the line, so to speak, for passenger rail," said Westcott.
So all those years go by with officials like Westcott thinking rail service is a no go, until...
"On page 13 of the contract," he said.
Just recently, when he actually read that contract from 1998, and there it was.
"A license to permit passenger operator to operate passenger rail service," read Westcott.
Translation; OKC and Tulsa could have had passenger rail service this whole time, since BNSF would have allowed it.
"Either ODOT and their lawyers somehow forgot about this clause on page 13 or they've intentionally misrepresented the fact to the citizens of Oklahoma," he said.
When asked for a reply to Mr. Westcott's assertions, ODOT replied; "The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has clarified the state-owned line runs from Midwest City to Sapulpa. ODOT does accurately represent its contract with BNSF. There are provisions for passenger rail service on the BNSF-owned line from Sapulpa to Tulsa and dispatch operations would have to be coordinated between the two rail lines and operators." They did not however, address allegations of whether they did or didn't describe the situation accurately in the past. Which brings us to the present and the ongoing battle to keep ODOT from selling the railway.
"And yet they're telling us, trust us, we'll take care of ya', you'll have passenger rail, trust us. Selling the line is the best thing for you," said Westcott.