Iowa Pacific Seeks to Provide Okla. Service

Iowa Pacific Holdings is seeking approval from then state of Oklahoma to operate regular passenger service over state-owned tracks.

The letter to Gov. Mary Fallin said IP wants to launch passenger train service on the Tulsa-Oklahoma City corridor “at once.”

The letter from IP President Ed Ellis says the Eastern Flyer demonstration trains running this month on the Stillwater Central’s Sooner Subdivision have been highly successful operationally and with customers. The trains operated between Tulsa suburb Sapulpa, and Midwest City, an Oklahoma City suburb.

“We operated these demonstration trains to validate our assumptions regarding passenger service in the corridor which we have proposed to operate at no cost to the State of Oklahoma, unlike the [Amtrak] Heartland Flyer which costs the State of Oklahoma over $2 million annually,” Ellis said. “Now that the demonstration runs have given us both data and experience, and some exceptionally positive customer feedback, we are prepared to begin regular service at once, with phased improvements to come over the next one to two years.

Ellis asked that the Oklahoma Department of Transportation immediately name Iowa Pacific as “passenger operator” on the Sooner Subdivision, including the Oklahoma Department of Transportation-owned rights into downtown Tulsa, and engage with Iowa Pacific in developing a contract for passenger train service on the Sooner Sub.

“We request that the contract development begin independently of any potential sale of the line, since the line is presently owned by the state, since no decision has been made on a buyer, and since the State retains complete rights to contract for passenger service at this time,” Ellis wrote. Iowa Pacific is asking for a five-year contract with the state, renewable for three successive five-year terms.

Oklahoma purchased the line from BNSF in 1998. Watco affiliate Stillwater Central operates freight service on the route under a lease that runs 2017, but the state is considering selling the line. Four bidders have emerged: BNSF Railway, Watco, Iowa Pacific and Fortress. A state panel will review the bids and decide whether to accept one of the bids in April or May.

Ellis said passenger trains could be running by Memorial Day. Under the IP plan,  service would be phased in as follows

• May 1, 2014: Two daily round trips between Sapulpa and Midwest City, with a running time of 2 hours, 50 minutes.

• Sept. 1, 2014: Six round trips between Sapulpa and Midwest City with a running time of 2 hours, 25 minutes. Five round trips would be offered on weekends.

• Oct. 1, 2014: Six round trips between Sapulpa and Midwest, and two round trips between Tulsa and Midwest City. The running time between Tulsa and Sapulpa is to be determined with BNSF. Five round trips would be offered on weekends.

• Within nine months of startup, reduce the running time to 2 hours, 15 minutes through improvements to curve elevation and improvements to main track speed.

Dedicated shuttles will be provided from Sapulpa and Midwest City to downtowns, universities, airports, and Bartlesville. Intermediate stops will be established at Bristow and Stroud. Iowa Pacific would also run additional special event trains as may be warranted for sports, entertainment and special events. Running times will be determined jointly with Stillwater Central.

Iowa Pacific says it will take all revenue risk for operation of these services, and there will be no purchase-of-service cost to the state of Oklahoma. The company will pay the train-mile cost (as adjusted for inflation) for use of the trackage rights between Sapulpa and Tulsa and be responsible for all costs to develop, operate, and maintain stations along the route.

The proposal asks the state to use its best efforts to secure funds for additional upgrading of the Sapulpa-Midwest City line, and to work with Iowa Pacific and the city of Oklahoma City to secure rail access between Midwest City and the Santa Fe station in downtown Oklahoma City, so that all trains can operate from downtown Tulsa to downtown Oklahoma City.

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