Posts Tagged ‘Heartland Flyer funding’

Okla. Hails Inclusion of Heartland Flyer Extension

March 29, 2019

Oklahoma officials are hailing the inclusion of an extension of Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer in the passenger carrier’s budget request for Congress even though much remains to be done before that will occur.

Amtrak’s federal fiscal year 2020 grant request identified as a priority extending the Flyer from its northern terminus of Oklahoma City to Newton, Kansas, where it could connect with the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

The Heartland Flyer now operates daily between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, Texas, with $3.1 million annual funding from the State of Oklahoma. The Flyer is the only Amtrak service in the Sooner State.

“We have been working with Amtrak on this option for a while, so we are glad it is included,” said Brenda Perry, a spokeswoman with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

The Amtrak budget request does not specify how much money the carrier is seeking for the extension of the Flyer.

Perry said the extension would also need funding from the State of Kansas. The prospects of that occurring are unclear.

She also said extending the Flyer would require more money from Oklahoma as well.

“Funding is always something that has to be worked through because the extension would require more ODOT funding than what we currently pay for the train going from here to Fort Worth,” Perry said.

The Heartland Flyer serves about 68,000 passengers a year.

Hearing Examines Heartland Flyer Operation

October 31, 2016

Some Oklahoma officials are raising questions about why their state pays more to fund the Heartland Flyer than does Texas.

Heartland FlyerThose questions were explored during a meeting of the Oklahoma Senate Transportation Committee last week in Norman, Oklahoma.

Oklahoma Senator Frank Simpson asked for a study, noting that at one time the two states split the costs of the Flyer 50-50.

But now, Simpson noted, the split is closer to 60-40 and Oklahoma cities have invested millions of dollars in infrastructure investments to their stations. Simpson believes that Texas may be receiving economic benefits for which it does not pay.

He also believes that the schedule of the Oklahoma City-Fort Worth, Texas, train favors the Lone Star state.

“The daily schedule really favors Texas—it’s more convenient for riders traveling south than it is for those coming north,” Simpson said. “I’m also concerned that the contract only runs a year at a time. I think when we have cities in Oklahoma making major investments a longer term contract would be tremendously helpful.”

The Heartland Flyer is scheduled to connect in Fort Worth with the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

Testimony introduced during the hearing indicated that the preliminary findings of a feasibility study to extend the Heartland Flyer to Newton, Kansas, to connect with the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief, indicates that ridership of the Flyer might more than double.

Simpson called for a longer-term contract with Texas and a schedule that is more advantageous for Oklahoma.

“Oklahoma City is investing close to $30 million. My small community of Ardmore is going to make an investment of almost $2 million. I want to make sure they have a sense of security in doing that. That would come with a long-term contract, five or 10 years out,” Simpson said. “The long-term agreement question was not answered, but that’s something I’ve got to pursue with ODOT and probably with Texas.”

The committee also heard that Amtrak may establish a stop for the Flyer in Thackerville, Oklahoma, which is near the Chickasaw Nation’s WinStar World Casino and Resort.

Private Operator Taking Over Heartland Flyer May be Key to Returning Rail Service to Wichita

September 21, 2016

Amtrak hasn’t served Wichita, Kansas, since October 1979 when the Chicago-Houston Lone Star was discontinued in a massive route restructuring designed to cut costs.

Now Kansas officials are hoping that Iowa Pacific Holdings can be the ticket to restoring rail service by extending the Heartland Flyer from Oklahoma City to Wichita; Newton, Kansas; or Kansas City.

Heartland FlyerThe Flyer is a student-supported train that currently operates between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, Texas, where it connects with the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

Iowa Pacific has been mentioned as a potential operator of the Heartland Flyer. Oklahoma is seeking proposals from entities willing to run the Flyer at presumably less cost than what the Oklahoma and Texas departments of transportation are now paying Amtrak.

The two states are paying Amtrak about $2.5 million and $3.5 million a year, from Texas and Oklahoma respectively, to operate the service, which serves more than 70,000 passengers a year.

Continued operation of the Heartland Flyer was in question earlier this year when an Oklahoma lawmaker said the state didn’t have the money to pay for the train.

But the Oklahoma Legislature approved used money from a $5 million annual revolving fund that supports the Heartland Flyer to make up the budget shortfall.

Kenna Carmen, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, said the state has enough funds to keep the Flyer running through the next fiscal year.

IP more than a year ago took over from Amtrak operation of the quad-weekly Hoosier State between Chicago and Indianapolis and has received acclaim for improving the service.

IP has been identified as one of seven potential bidders to take over the Heartland Flyer.

Ed Ellis, the head of IP, said the key to bringing costs down is charging passengers more for enhanced service – something he bets they’re willing to pay.

“They would love to have a better travel experience even if it costs more money,” Ellis said.

Although Wichita is not served by Amtrak, a Thruway bus connects the city with the Heartland Flyer at Oklahoma City.
Extending the Flyer into Kansas could cost more than $100 million for additional equipment and such capital costs as track improvements and new stations.

Officials say that the state of finances in Kansas state government means that cities to be served by the Flyer would have to to cover the operating costs that ordinarily the states would pick up.

“It’s one of those situations where it’s going to take broad-based support,” said John Maddox, program director for rail at the Kansas Department of Transportation.

Kansas is served by one Amtrak route, the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief, which stops in Newton, about 25 miles north of Wichita.

The state was part of an effort to win a federal grant that was used to rebuild the tracks used by the Chief in western Kansas that kept it on its current route for the foreseeable future.

The Thruway bus that links Wichita and Oklahoma City also operates to Newton to connect with the Chief.

Heartland Flyer to Run for Another Year

June 6, 2016

The State of Oklahoma has agreed to pay Amtrak $3.7 million to keep the Heartland Flyer operating for another year.

Heartland FlyerThe future of the Oklahoma City-Fort Worth, Texas, train had been in doubt after some Sooner state lawmakers talked about ending its funding due to a $1.3 billion budget shortfall.

However, the legislature agreed to appropriate $2.84 million and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation will make up the rest of the funding from its general budget.

The department is also seeking ways to reduce cost while at the same time increasing service to two roundtrips a day. A department spokeswoman said increasing service would make the route a more viable transportation option.

The cost of operating the Heartland Flyer has nearly doubled over the past seven years because the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 requires states to pay a larger share of costs of state-funded trains.