William F. O'Brien
Against the Grain
In March 2001 the Taliban government in Afghanistan ignored world wide protests and destroyed two statues of Buddha that were more than 1,800 years old. The statues were located in a cliff face in the Barmiyan valley in Afghanistan, and the militantly Islamic Taliban ignored offers from many organizations who were willing to take them out of the country as a way of preserving them. Tom Elmore of the North American Transportation Institute believes that a similar act will be done in Oklahoma City when the rail yard that adjoins the Union Central train station is demolished to make way for the Cross Town Expressway.
And while the destruction of the Buddha statues was an act of cultural desecration, the elimination of the rail yard will destroy a place that could provide a rail transit center for Oklahoma City and the rest of the State. Union Station and its 12-track, six-block long yard could serve as a multi-modal transportation center that would include passenger trains from other states, such as the Heartland Flyer, as well as regional intrastate trains that could link towns such as Norman, Chickasha, Duncan, Lawton and Altus with Oklahoma City on rail lines that are already in existence. Elmore also sees the station's yard as serving as the hub for a light rail trolley system that would transport commuters from Edmond to Oklahoma City and also provide such transportation throughout the Oklahoma City area. Passengers would also be able to make connections with local and regional bus services from the Union Station that Elmore envisions. Such a system would allow military families from Altus and Lawton to come to Oklahoma City by train and then walk to Brick Town or transfer to the light rail line to go to the Zoo or the Cowboy Hall of Fame
A multi-modal transportation center would be appropriate for the Union Central and its rail yard, Elmore asserts, because it was constructed to allow access to trains for both passengers and freight without interfering with street traffic on the adjoining Robinson and Walker Streets, and its official opening was a cause for celebration in Oklahoma City for that reason.
And while the Oklahoma City media has largely ignored the issue, several individuals who are affiliated with mass transit systems in place in other cities have weighed in on the issue at the urging of Elmore and others. A retired physician, Dr. Daniel Monaghan, who was formerly on the Board of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit system wrote a letter in which he urged that the yard be maintained since a similar site in Dallas served as the basis for the that city's popular light rail system that connects its downtown with many of its suburbs. Denver is in the process of constructing an addition to its light rail system that will bring more than 120 miles of new rail lines to that city. Denver's Union Station and its rail lines are serving as the center for that new system, and an official from Denver also wrote a letter in which he urged that Oklahoma City preserve the rail yard that adjoins its Union Station.
Last year the Norman City Council considered a resolution that would have asked Governor Henry to reconsider the route of the Crosstown Expressway so that the Union Station yard could be spared. While the resolution did not pass, Council member David Ray, a professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma, spoke in its favor, and pointed out that the construction of new highways to relieve congestion of existing ones seems to eventually result in more traffic congestion on all highways. He also said that most metropolitan areas are now using some form of mass transit as part of their transportation policy, and that it was time for Oklahoma City and its suburbs to seriously consider that option.
In the early 1900s the area known as "Deep Deuce" in Oklahoma City was the focal point of African-American culture in Oklahoma with a theater and other public places where black artists from around the nation would perform. Novelist Ralph Ellison grew up in Oklahoma City, and celebrated the Deep Deuce in his nonfiction writings about his youth and early manhood. But the Deep Deuce succumbed to the wrecking ball as part of the urban renewal that was visited upon Oklahoma City in the 1960s, and its destruction is lamented in most modern histories written about Oklahoma's Capitol. If the Union Station yard is demolished to make way for the Crosstown Expressway, future histories of Oklahoma City will probably lament its elimination as a lost opportunity for the development of rail transportation in Oklahoma.