Posts Tagged ‘Wichita Kansas’

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.

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.

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.

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.

Wichita Still Wants Amtrak Back

October 14, 2017

Promoters of bringing Amtrak back to Wichita, Kansas, held a conference this week to discuss how to bring that about.

A Wichita City council member expressed optimism that service could be reinstated, but didn’t say when that would be.

“The market of the youth and even retired people, they’re driving these kind of decisions and say this is how we keep our city, it’s the 48th largest city, we need to be investing in that or we don’t keep up with the rest of the trends that are going on in the world today,” said Pete Meitzner.

The plan is to have Amtrak use the former Wichita Union Station.

Amtrak’s Chicago-Houston Lone Star served Wichita until early October 1979 when the train was discontinued in a massive route restructuring.

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.

Amtrak Thruway Bus Routes Now Serve Wichita

April 20, 2016

An Amtrak Thruway Bus connection has been established to link Wichita, Kansas, with the Southwest Chief and Heartland Flyer.

The bus will connect with Nos. 3 and 4 at Newton, Kansas, and with Nos. 821 and 822 in Oklahoma City.

The buses will call at the bus station in Wichita at 312 S. Broadway St. The bus service is being operated by Village Tours of Wichita.

Wichita has been without Amtrak service since the discontinuance of the Chicago-Houston Lone Star in early October 1979.