Posts Tagged ‘Oklahoma passenger service’

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.

7 Interested in Operating Heartland Flyer

July 19, 2016

A proposal to seek bids to operate the Oklahoma City-Fort Worth, Texas, Heartland Flyer has drawn interest from seven companies.

They include Iowa Pacific, PTSI Transportation, Herzog, First Transit, Corridor Capital, Amtrak, and a company named Erie Lackawanna.

Heartland FlyerProposals are being sought by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, which underwrites much of the costs of the Heartland Flyer.

The train is currently operated by Amtrak.

News media reports indicated that state officials have not named a timeline for when the state will begin receiving bids to operate the Flyer.

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.

Oklahoma Passenger Service Poised to Launch

April 1, 2015

Private passenger service between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Okla., is expected to begin in May or early summer.

The train, a venture of Watco, which owns the tracks, and Iowa Pacific Holdings, which is providing the equipment and on-board service, has been named the Eastern Flyer.

Matt Abbey, project manager for the service, said that Watco continues to make track improvements and the Federal Railroad Administration must approve the service.

Shuttles from pickup points in Tulsa will take passengers to a station in Sapulpa, Okla., where passenger will then board the train for Midwest City, Okla. Shuttles will then take passengers to various points in Oklahoma City.

The train will also make a number of intermediate stops.

Fares will start at $20 and downtown-to-downtown service will take about three hours. Food and beverage service along with wireless Internet access will be provided aboard the train.

“It’s important to us that this is done well and thoroughly,” Abbey said.

Sometime soon there will be a website and mobile-phone platforms up and running for passengers to check on train times and purchase tickets.

Watco and Iowa Pacific offered demonstration pass trains on the Stillwater Central between Sapulpa and Midwest City in February 2014.

Iowa Pacific Seeks to Provide Okla. Service

February 21, 2014

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.