Posts Tagged ‘Heartland Flyer’

Panel Discusses Heartland Flyer Extension Into Kansas

January 25, 2020

What it would take to extend Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer into Kansas was discussed during a Jan. 22 meeting of the Ways and Means Committee of the Kansas legislature.

What emerged from that meeting was an outline of how Amtrak hopes to implement the proposed new corridor routes that CEO Richard Anderson has been touting over the past year.

Spoiler alert: It will take the cooperation of Congress and various state legislatures.

Ray Lang, Amtrak’s senior director of government affairs, acknowledged that cost barriers to starting corridor service are high.

“We tend to find that they are higher than a state can afford,” Lang said.

He noted that host railroad BNSF is working with Amtrak and the Kansas Department of Transportation to determine the cost of extending the Flyer from its northern terminus of Oklahoma City into Kansas.

The Heartland Flyer currently operates daily between Oklahoma City and Fort, Worth, Texas, with funding from the states of Oklahoma and Texas.

The extension into Kansas would serve Wichita and end in Newton where it would connect with the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Some proposals have been floated to have the Heartland Flyer run to Kansas City.

Lang indicated that whatever the numbers are in that report, they are likely to be more than what Kansas is willing to pay.

He said Amtrak is expected to propose that Congress establish a federal grant program of billions of dollars that would help states pay for capital costs of starting new routes.

Grant money would also be available for states to pay the operating losses of the new routes in the early years of service.

“The Heartland Flyer corridor is certainly one of the places that we think would be a perfect place to invest capital money from this billion-dollar grant program,” Lang said.

There are currently 17 states that pay Amtrak to provide intercity rail passenger service. Lang said half of Amtrak ridership is aboard state-funded trains.

KDOT Deputy Secretary Lindsey Douglas told the committee there is a path forward for the Heartland Flyer extension once the capital investment figures are released.

He offered to prepare a summary sheet of the costs after the BNSF-Amtrak-KDOT study is completed.

“The new federal grant program would open up a lot of doors to get this project funded,” Douglas said.

Lang demurred when asked by Senator Carolyn McGinn, chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee, about Amtrak’s efforts to replace the Southwest Chief in portions of Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico with buses.

“We’re very proud of the long-distance trains,” Lang said. “The growth opportunities are in short-distance regional trains, which is why we’d love to extend the Heartland Flyer north of Oklahoma City to Wichita, Kansas, and connect with the Southwest Chief in Newton.”

In other words, there is no assurance the bus bridge idea will not resurface once the current federal fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.

Events to Mark 20th Anniversary of Heartland Flyer

June 3, 2019

A ceremony is scheduled for June 14 in Oklahoma City to mark the 20th anniversary of Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer.

Another ceremony will be held in Fort Worth, Texas, after the arrival of the train there.

A rally is also planned for Ardmore, Oklahoma.

Expected to attend the ceremonies will be rail passenger advocates and others who helped push for the institution of the route in 1999.

A commemorative tee shirt will be available for sale to mark the anniversary.

The Heartland Flyer in part serves the route used by Amtrak’s Chicago-Houston Lone Star before it was discontinued in early October 1979 as part of a massive route restructuring.

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.

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.

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.

Crowds Turn Out for Amtrak Inspection Train

June 13, 2017

Crowds turned out in the communities visited last week by an Amtrak inspection train that was examining a possible expansion route of the Heartland Flyer.

The train operated from Oklahoma City to Kansas City and made stops in Guthrie, Perry, and Ponca City in Oklahoma; and Arkansas City, Wichita, Newton, Emporia, and Topeka in Kansas.

The consist of the train included P40 locomotive No. 822; heritage sleeper Pacific Bend, No. 10020, originally a 10-6 sleeper built by Budd for Union Pacific in 1950; Viewliner sleeper New River, No. 62043; dome-lounge Ocean View, No. 10031, built for Great Northern by Budd in 1955; and inspection car American View, No. 10004, built by Budd as one of the Viewliner prototypes in 1994.

The route covered by the train hosted Amtrak’s Chicago-Houston Lone Star until early October 1979.

Amtrak is studying extending the Heartland Flyer to Newton or to Kansas City. At Newton, the Flyer would connect with the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Last year a Thruway bus service began between Newton and Oklahoma City.

 

Norman to Become Locomotive Horn Quiet Zone

February 16, 2017

Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer will be making less noise as it passes through Norman, Oklahoma, starting Friday.

Heartland FlyerThe city has adopted an ordinance that will result in Amtrak and BNSF trains gradually decreasing the use of locomotive horns.

Eventually, Norman will become a quiet zone although locomotive engineers will be permitted to sound the horn for safety reasons.

The city has installed median barriers and warning signs at grade crossing as required by federal law in order to qualify as a quiet zone for locomotive horns.

Norman, the hometown of the University of Oklahoma, has been working since 2015 to establish itself as a quiet zone.

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.

BNSF Track Work to Cancel Heartland Flyer

August 26, 2016

BNSF track work will affect operations of the Heartland Flyer between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, Texas, in September.

Heartland FlyerAmtrak said Train 822 will be cancelled on Sept. 18. Passengers will be provided bus service at all stations on the route.

Train 821 will be cancelled on Sept. 19 with passengers riding a chartered bus. On both dates, bicycles will not be accepted aboard the buses.

Amtrak also reminds passengers that new schedules for Nos. 821/822 are now in effect. The primary change is that Train 822 now departs earlier at stations from Gainesville, Texas, to Oklahoma City.