Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer’

Wichita Still Pushing to Get Amtrak Back

December 15, 2018

City officials in Wichita, Kansas, really want Amtrak to come back.

Getting intercity rail passenger service is No. 2 on a list of the city’s transportation priorities for the Kansas legislature this year.

City spokesman Ken Evan said the chances of seeing Amtrak return to the sunflower state’s largest city is 50-50. “We’ve had years where it’s been much lower,” he said.

However, officials in Segwick County are not as enthusiastic. Getting Amtrak back isn’t on their list of transportation priorities.

County Commission Chairman David Dennis is reluctant to support a return of intercity rail service until he can see how much it will cost.

“Until I get the answers to what the cost is and the benefit, I can’t say that I’m supportive or against it,” Dennis said.

The campaign to return Amtrak to Wichita has been a long and fruitless one.

The city was a stop for Amtrak’s Chicago-Houston Lone Star before that train was discontinued in early October 1979 as part of a massive Amtrak restructuring triggered by a desire by Congress and the U.S. Department of Transportation to curtail federal funding for Amtrak.

Among the ideas floated for restoring service to Wichita are extending the Heartland Flyer from Oklahoma City to Kansas City, Missouri, via Wichita.

There was even some thought given to rerouting the Southwest Chief via Wichita and a more southerly route via Amarillo, Texas.

That idea is unlikely although the Chief’s route through western Kansas, southeastern Colorado and northern New Mexico via Raton Pass is on shaky ground due to Amtrak’s desire to cease operating over it between Dodge City, Kansas, and Albuquerque.

City officials noted federal dollars might be available to fund service via Wichita and state finances are healthier.

More than likely if service to Wichita is to materialize, it would involve extending the Heartland Flyer from Oklahoma City northward to Kansas City or a connection with the Southwest Chief at Newton, Kansas.

Seeking to push the Segwick County commissions in favor of supporting the return of Amtrak is long-time train advocate Pete Meitzner.

He recently won a seat on the County Commission and takes office in January.

Meitzner said that even though cost estimates have been requested and have yet to be released, he expects the initial outlay to be minimal.

He said federal funds are available for restoring service where it used to exist and he hopes to convince the state to apply. If the state agrees, service to Wichita could be launched in one to two years.

That assumes that the trains would have a top speed of 60 mph instead of 79 mph with the former being the fastest that BNSF allows freight trains to travel on its tracks through Wichita.

It also assumes the service would use equipment now assigned to the Heartland Flyer, which sits overnight in Oklahoma City after arriving from Fort Worth, Texas.

Amtrak operated a demonstration run last year on the route.

How much influence that Meitzner might have on his fellow commissioners remains to be seen.

Commissioner Jim Howell said Meitzner’s presence on the board may lead the county to rethink seeking Amtrak.

“I would not be surprised if we would have new discussions and possibly change our priorities a little bit, and do what we can to chase down our previous comments and straighten things back up again if we have any opportunity to do so,” he said.

Two members of the Kansas legislature also expressed optimism that funding service to Wichita might at least be discussed.

Rep. Dan Hawkins, the new Republican leader in House, and Rep. Tom Sawyer, the Democratic leader, said they’d heard from constituents who want train service in Wichita.

The House Transportation Committee is expected to create a 10-year transportation plan and matching funds for federal funding of Amtrak service might be part of it.

In the meantime, an Amtrak Thruway bus route connects Wichita with the Southwest Chief at Newton.

Last year 4,900 passengers rode the Thruway route that serves Wichita with 1,700 of them boarding there.

The bus originates in Oklahoma City. “We’ve been really happy with it,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

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Service Canceled Due to Hurricane Michael

October 10, 2018

Amtrak is canceling service in anticipation of the arrival of Hurricane Michael.

In a service advisory issued on Tuesday, the passenger carrier said that the Silver Star (Nos. 91 and 92) will operate between Miami and Jacksonville, Florida, effective Oct. 10.

No alternate transportation is being provided between Jacksonville and New York City.

The Palmetto (Nos. 89 and 90) will operate only between New York and Washington with no alternate transportation provided between Washington and Savannah. This change is effective Oct. 11,

Michael is to come ashore in the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday and turn east toward the routes used by the affected two trains.

Flooding earlier affected operations of two other routes.

The Southwest Chief detoured in Kansas due to the threat of flooding along the Little Arkansas River.

No. 3, which departed Chicago on Tuesday, and No. 4, which departed Los Angeles on Monday, traversed a former Rock Island line between Hutchinson and Topeka. Those tracks are now owned by Union Pacific.

Chartered buses served passengers traveling to and from Newton, which was the only missed station.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the detour could continue for multiple days if needed.

The northbound Heartland Flyer was affected by a track washout in southern Oklahoma delayed passengers after heavy rainfall on Sunday afternoon damaged the tracks between Gene Autry and Davis.

The train was halted in Ardmore and passengers were transported by bus to all stops en route to Oklahoma City.

Many passengers aboard the Flyer had attended the annual Red River Showdown football game in Dallas between the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas.

Proposals Sought for OK Passenger Service

June 23, 2018

Watco Companies has issued a request for proposals to provide intercity rail passenger service between Tulsa and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

The request came from Watco subsidiary Stillwater Central Railroad and proposals are due by July 27.

The request for proposals seeks comprehensive proposals from providers of passenger rail services to operate passenger rail service to be known as the Eastern Flyer between Sapulpa and Del City on the Sooner Subdivision.

Oklahoma City currently is served by Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer while Tulsa has never had Amtrak service.

The last passenger trains to Tulsa were provided by the Santa Fe and discontinued with the coming of Amtrak on May 1, 1971.

Wichita Eyes Grant to Lure Back Amtrak

March 28, 2018

The city of Wichita, Kansas, is seeking a federal grant to be used to lure Amtrak back.

City officials , including the the mayor, city council, and others, traveled to Washington to meet with Trump Administration officials and other government agencies to discuss infrastructure need and other issues.

While in the capitol, they also met with Amtrak executives to discuss the proposal to return Amtrak to Wichita, possibly by extending the Heartland Flyer there from Oklahoma City.

Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell said the city may qualify for a Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements or CRISI grant.

He said the grant could cover most costs of getting Amtrak to Wichita.

Amtrak has studied extending the Flyer to Kansas City via Wichita but has no firm plans to do so.

Wichita has been off the Amtrak map since October 1979 when the Chicago-Houston Lone Star was discontinued during a massive route restructuring.

Heartland Flyer Route PTC Compliant

February 20, 2018

Tracks used by Amtrak’s Oklahoma City-Fort Worth, Texas, Heartland Flyer are in compliance with federal law mandating installation of a positive train control system by the end of 2018.

A spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation said the BNSF rails used by the Flyer has a PTC system.

She made the comment in wake of testimony to Congress by Amtrak President and CEO Richard Anderson that passenger train service might be suspended on tracks that are not compliant with the PTC mandate.

Amtrak said it has PTC in place on tracks it owns in the Northeast and in Michigan.

Kansas Seeks Study of Heartland Flyer Extension

January 30, 2018

The Kansas Department of Transportation has asked Amtrak to undertake a study of extending the Heartland Flyer to Wichita and Newton, Kansas.

The Flyer, which is funded by the states of Oklahoma and Texas, currently operates between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, Texas.

The study would review projected costs and ridership numbers. At Newton, the Flyer would connect with Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

It would not be the first study of extending the Heartland Flyer. An Amtrak inspection train operated over the route to Kansas City last year.

Between 1971 and 1979, Amtrak’s Chicago-Houston Lone Star used the route that is being eyed for the Flyer extension.

The Lone Star was discontinued amid a route restructuring prompted by congressional desire to reduce Amtrak funding.

Kansas and Amtrak officials are said to be optimistic about establishing the extension. Amtrak noted that a connecting bus service to Wichita that began in 2016 has had good ridership.

State officials see the Flyer extension as having potential to boost tourism and provide transportation to students attending Wichita State University, Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma.

The latter, located in Norman, is already a stop on the Heartland Flyer route.

Renovated OKC Station Opens

December 8, 2017

The former Santa Fe station in downtown Oklahoma City has reopened following the completion of the first phase of its renovation and restoration.

The station, which is the northern terminus of Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer route, opened in 1934.

The restoration project restored the interior of the station to what it looked like in the 1930s.

This included matching paint from samples chipped from the wall and installing replica art deco light fixtures.

A new sculpture, titled Connectivity and created by Marsh Scott, fills the window over the west entrance.

Additional limestone traced to the same Texas quarry as the original pieces was also used in the restoration work.

“This is a gem to be involved in,” said Rick Lueb of TAP Architecture.

Most of the money for the $28.4 million project was provided by a federal transportation grant.

Lueb said photographs provided by a railroad enthusiast proved invaluable in recreating the original station.

Aside from serving Amtrak, the station will house city transit offices and retail businesses.

The next phase of the project will involve building a tunnel under the tracks to create a walkway to Bricktown and a plaza. That work is expected to be finished in June 2019.

OKC Mayor Mick Cornett said the restoration shows community values at work, preserving what could be lost.

The Heartland Flyer operates daily between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, Texas, where it connects with Amtrak’s Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

The OKC station might also some day serve a proposed light rail line.

Hearing Set on Heartland Flyer Extension

August 24, 2017

The Oklahoma legislature will conduct a hearing on Sept. 6 to discuss extending the Heartland Flyer into Kansas.

The train currently operates between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, Texas, but a movement is underway to extend operation of the train to Newton, Kansas, where it could connect with Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

There has also been discussion about extending the Flyer to Kansas City, Missouri.

Newton Mayor Barth Hague and Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell plan to travel to the hearing to testify in support of the extension. Wichita has been without Amtrak service since October 1979.

Oklahoma is looking to build on an earlier study done by the state of Kansas.

The Heartland Flyer is funded primarily by Oklahoma with some funding coming from the state of Texas.

“Right now that train is funded by Texas and Oklahoma, so we certainly cannot do anything without working with them, and they want to work on it,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

The move to extend the Heartland Flyer into Kansas dates back to at least 2008.

A 2012 study conducted by the Kansas Department of Transportation estimated the cost of improvements needed for extension to Newton route would be $87.5 million.

Extending the Flyer to Kansas City would cost about $245.5 million.

“There will be need for an effort to put some good, positive advocacy pressure on our state to jump forward to provide funding,” Hague said.

Hague noted that the 2012 cost estimates have been changed several times.

“What Amtrak and BNSF have figured out is there might be a way to extend the line without ($100 million) in track improvements,” Hague said.

Amtrak ran an inspection train on the route on June 9.

Norman Depot Renovations Completed

July 13, 2017

Renovation work has been completed to the former Santa Fe Depot in Norman, Oklahoma, that is used by Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer.

The depot was built in 1909. A grand reopening festival will be held on Friday to commemorate the completion of the renovation work.

The Back on Track celebration will coincide with the city’s monthly art walk. A schedule of events is available at http://www.2ndfridaynorman.com

There will be an opening reception for “Variations on Themes,” a collection of paintings by artist Jim Cobb. Free appetizers will be served, along with libations provided by Norman’s 405 Brewing Co. and Native Spirits Winery. Live music will be provided in the portico by members of the Songwriters Association of Norman.

A raffle to raising money to pay for gallery lighting and stages will have as one of its top prizes an Amtrak voucher for a round trip to Fort Worth, Texas, for two.

The Heartland Flyer operates daily between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth.

Hope for Heartland Flyer Expansion? Maybe, But it Will be a Long, Difficult and Expensive Road

June 19, 2017

Amtrak garnered a lot of positive publicity recently when it operated an inspection train from Oklahoma City to Kansas City.

The train stopped in several cities in Oklahoma and Kansas that are hungry to see Amtrak return after an absence of more than 37 years.

Probably more than a few people who turned out to see the train or heard about it through the news media came away thinking that it was a giant step toward extending the route of the Heartland Flyer.

But getting Amtrak to operate an inspection train is simple compared with the work of finding a way to make the service happen. And that wasn’t something that Amtrak talked about much during the stopovers.

Instead, Amtrak spokesman Joe McHugh talked up how there had been a “tremendous turnout” in communities that haven’t seen a passenger train since the Chicago-Houston Lone Star was discontinued during a massive Amtrak route restructuring in 1979.

McHugh said Amtrak will work with BNSF, which owns the track used by the inspection train, to establish the service.

He said the next step toward passenger rail service would be planning what that service will look like, how much it will cost and what investments are necessary to rebuild the BNSF tracks.

McHugh said that work will probably last through the summer and fall.

Actually, Amtrak already knows a lot about those things.

The idea of extending the Heartland Flyer has been around for a long time.

One idea is to run it all the way to Kansas City, where it could connect with Missouri Mule service to St. Louis and the Southwest Chief to Chicago.

Another idea is to extend the Flyer to Newton, Kansas, where it would connect with the Chief.

As it is, Amtrak began Thruway bus service to Newton from Oklahoma City last year for that purpose.

It is the nature of rail passenger advocates to spin studies and inspection trains in the best possible light.

Mark Corriston, a member of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, carried a sign that he held up at the Topeka, Kansas, station – which is already served by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief – that read, “If Amtrak runs it, we will ride it.”

He told a local news reporter that the sign was out of the movie Field of Dreams, in which an Iowa farmer hears a voice saying, “If you build it, they will come.” That was in reference to a baseball diamond.

But not all passenger advocates are as sanguine.

In two postings on the NARP website, Evan Stair, president of Passenger Rail Oklahoma, Passenger Rail Kansas, sounded downright morose about the prospects for extending the Flyer.

His comments are illustrative of the sense of weariness that passenger advocates must feel.

As Stair sees it, the inspection train was part of a continuing dialogue rather than a means to an end.

He suspects that the inspection run “will likely become yet another symbol of dashed hopes as Amtrak’s national route system continues to stagnate.”

In 1998 Amtrak ran an inspection train to Tulsa, Oklahoma, but that has yet to materialize into scheduled intercity rail passenger service to a city that last had it on the day before Amtrak came to life in 1971.

Stair said the logical endpoints for the Heartland Flyer are Fort Worth and Kansas City.

For the past 18 years the Flyer has operated between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City, connecting at the former city with the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

BNSF and Amtrak had earlier said that to operate the train between Fort Worth and Kansas City would require $479 million in capital improvements.

That figure drops to between $126 million to $156 million if the extension goes no further north than Newton.

Stair questions whether that much needs to be spent on a line that has moderate freight traffic.

In recent years, the Heartland Flyer has been funded by the states of Oklahoma and Texas.

Oklahoma nearly cut its funding by $1 million for fiscal year 2018, which would have ended or sharply curtailed operation of the train.

At the last minute, the legislature came up with the funds, but Stair noted that Oklahoma’s finances are strained due to declining revenue.

In such an environment, Stair wrote, there is little prospect for the state agreeing to meet the capital needs demanded by Amtrak and BNSF.

Heartland Flyer service expansion is essential to [its] preservation,” Stair wrote. “The train cannot survive for much longer as-is. Amtrak now recognizes this after 18 years. What took them so long? We were knocking on their doors 10 years ago!”

A more likely solution to the capital funding dilemma, Stair wrote, would be using federal grant money such as TIGER funding.

TIGER funds were used to rebuild the BNSF track in western Kansas, southeast Colorado, and northern New Mexico used by the Southwest Chief.

Yet with the Trump administration seeking to end the TIGER program, it is not clear where that funding will come from.

“There is some good news,” Stair wrote. “There are signs Amtrak managers who deal directly with the Heartland Flyer are listening. This only occurred when Passenger Rail Oklahoma encouraged, through a failed House Bill, to unbundle the Heartland Flyer contract. ODOT and TxDOT then threatened a request for proposal to unbundle the service.”

That would have meant having an operator other than Amtrak operate the train.

What Stair thinks could save the service would be the creation of an Oklahoma City section of the Texas Eagle or Southwest Chief in the same way that there is a Portland section of the Empire Builder.

That option, though, creates its own set of challenges.

For now, the Heartland Flyer continues to operate and some continue to hope that the “dialogue” will someday result in service where it does not now exist.