Heartland Flyer Expansion Being Discussed

Kansas, Oklahoma looking to expand Heartland Flyer North


Travelers departing Fort Worth’s Intermodal Transportation Center might one day have more destinations to choose from.

A study funded by the Kansas and Oklahoma transportation departments considers possible expansion of the Fort Worth-to-Oklahoma City Heartland Flyer.

The study was done so the department can receive federal funding for other projects, but a lobbying group hopes the states take up the expansion options.

Northern Flyer Alliance is based near Kansas City and advocates for the expansion of rail service between Kansas City, Mo., and Fort Worth.

The group wants to connect the 65 cities between Fort Worth and Kansas City to improve transportation, mostly for the economic benefits communities along the rail line would see.

“The communities along the way would benefit with job growth that comes along with it, plus tourism and other things,” said Mark Corriston, secretary of the group.

The study looked at the costs of two expansion options. The first would extend the Heartland Flyer’s route north to Newton, Kan., which is north of Wichita. That addition would require more nighttime-based service, as the rail line would start there as opposed to its current start in Oklahoma City.

The Newton-to-Fort Worth route would cost $132.5 million. Passengers in Newton could then catch the regular train that connects Chicago and Los Angeles with stops in Kansas City. The other option would create a daily Fort Worth-to-Kansas City route.

The second option would cost $368.2 million, as it would connect with Topeka, Kan., Lawrence, Kan., and then Kansas City.

Corriston said the federal government would pay up 80 percent of those costs, leaving the three states involved in the route to pay for the expansion costs and then later the cost to operate the trains. Corriston views the cost as being a bargain.

“And it’s not much more than the cost of interstate highways for the states, because interstate highways cost about $23 million per mile,” he said.

By adding the daily Kansas City-to-Fort Worth route, Amtrak would double the number of trains between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City, as it would be a complement to Heartland Flyer.

Corriston and the Northern Flyer Alliance believe the expansion of both routes would have sufficient ridership.

The Heartland Flyer is currently exceeding the ridership set when it debuted in 1999. From June 2010 to June 2011 ridership on the route was up 20 percent. Corriston says train travel from Kansas City to St. Louis is also seeing increased ridership, as is Amtrak across the country.

Fort Worth officials have little say over the matter, which would be up to the state governments. But those who promote Fort Worth for business, conventions and tourism can only see positives.

“It’s just like adding an airport or an interstate highway -- having a rail mode, an additional rail mode, in Fort Worth would be very beneficial,” said Andy Taft, president of Downtown Fort Worth Inc.

The Northern Flyer Alliance represents more than 50 governments that want to see the route expanded. It worked for four years to get this far with the study.

Corriston said it could be another four years before anyone would be able to board one of the proposed trains. But he said he is hopeful the states will act to improve the rail line, saying it's well worth the cost.

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