Amtrak from Fort Worth to Kansas?

Thursday, Oct 21, 2010  |  Updated 2:43 PM CDT
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Amtrak from Fort Worth to Kansas?

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Officials looking into extending Amtrak passenger rail service from Oklahoma City to Kansas say money is the biggest obstacle.

Lawmakers and transportation officials from Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas met Thursday in Oklahoma City as part of a study on the proposal being done between legislative sessions.

State Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, said extending the rail service would make the existing Heartland Flyer service from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth, Texas, a more effective transportation option for the public.

But he said Oklahoma, still struggling to recover from an economic downturn, will have a hard time coming up with money to pay for its share of the route. And he said, so far, few outside railroad buffs and residents along the proposed route are on board with the idea.

"When the public begins to vibrate on an issue, we jump into action," Morrissette said. "And there's no vibration on this issue."

The Oklahoman reported that Morrissette estimated startup cost to extend service to Kansas City, Mo., at $479 million with an annual operating cost of $8.1 million. Another option would extend Amtrak to Newton, Kan., near Wichita at a startup cost of about $156 million and annual operating expenses of $3.2 million.

A plan on both routes is expected to be completed in about a year.

Kansas state Sen. Dick Kelsey, who introduced a measure that won passage this year to establish and implement a passenger rail service program, said Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas must work together to extend the Heartland Flyer line north.

Kansas legislators haven't appropriated any money for Kelsey's legislation because of the economic slowdown.

The Texas and Oklahoma transportation departments each pay about $2 million a year for the Heartland Flyer service.

William Glavin, rail division director for the Texas Transportation Department, said that investment results in an $18 million economic return in passengers eating meals, staying at hotels and shopping. Texas gets a $10 million return and Oklahoma gets $8 million, according to a study by the Texas Transportation Institute.

Ponca City Mayor Homer Nicholson, whose city would be about halfway along the route into Kansas, said the passenger rail service is needed.

"We've lost bus service, we've lost our commercial air service," he said. "My citizens, especially my senior citizens, beat me up all the time about transportation to Oklahoma City, Tulsa or Wichita for medical care."

Morrissette said he plans to file a bill similar to Kelsey's during next year's legislative session.

More: NewsOK

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