Tulsa Rail Service Study Reviewed

An initial step toward resuming passenger rail service back to Tulsa was taken with a public forum held at the behest of Rick Westcott, Tulsa city councilor for District 2.
Tulsa’s last passenger train — on the Santa Fe — was on April 30, 1971, to Kansas City.
Westcott wants to build on an initiative by Missouri to induce Amtrak to extend service from St. Louis to Springfield, Mo. and go further west to Tulsa and Oklahoma City where it could connect with the Heartland Flyer to Fort Worth.
Officials from Amtrak, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, the Indian Nation Council of Government (INCOG) and two state-based public rail support groups discussed the issue before an audience of about 30 people, most community representatives, state and Amtrak officials.
An Amtrak study on the St. Louis to Springfield route is nearing completion. Ray Lang, senior director of government affairs for Amtrak, said a similar study could be done on the route to Tulsa in about six months at a cost of $15,000 to $20,000 and is the “logical next step.”
Missouri sought the study because it believes traffic will be generated along the route that would serve two universities, Fort Leonard Wood and the entertainment center at Branson.
If all the “ifs” — funding, agreements with Amtrak, the state, the railroads, etc. — were in place tomorrow it would take at least three to five years before service could start, said Joe Kyle, manager of the rail program division for the state transportation department.
The state already owns most of the rail line between Tulsa and Oklahoma City and receives 10 percent of the revenues from the operator funds the legislature limits for aid to rail freight. There is a 10-mile gap at the Tulsa end, which would have to be built.
Tim Armer, director of transportation for INCOG said it would cost $152 million in 2001 dollar values to upgrade the Tulsa-Oklahoma City route to passenger service levels.
Jack Webb of Dallas, a consultant to the state transportation department, said the cost of a high-speed — 150 miles per hour — rail service between the state’s two cities would be $850 million. High speed is needed to attract the customer base to support the service.
The present Tulsa-Oklahoma City route is one of the first built through the state and is “as crooked as a snake’s back.”
Oklahoma is one of just 10 states designated for a high speed rail corridor — a route from San Antonio through Austin, Dallas and Oklahoma City to Tulsa.
Upgrading the Oklahoma portion of the Springfield-Tulsa route would be about $19 million and Kyle said it would cost about the same for the Missouri portion of the line, both segments are about the same length.
Lang said Amtrak services about 550 communities, but Tulsa is one of about 10 metropolitan areas in the nation not served by Amtrak, including Phoenix, Las Vegas, Nashville and Colorado Springs.
Any Tulsa service is presently “conceptual,” Lang said. State and local officials are looking at longer term plan.
Of the states with an Amtrak-state partnership — such as Oklahoma with the Heartland Flyer — only four have service with a single daily roundtrip, Lang said.
The Heartland flyer carried 58,095 passengers during the 2004 fiscal year, 71,045 in 2005 and 68,030 in 2006, according to the latest Amtrak statistics available.
By comparison, more than four times that many people were moved by airlines through Tulsa International Airport in October.
Amtrak reports that it has five employees in the state with an annual payroll of $278,942 and spent $1.65 million in the state during the most recent fiscal year for goods and services, most of that in Oklahoma City.
While not foregoing a Tulsa route, the Amtrak official said he believes the logical next step for the state is funding an increase in the frequency on the Oklahoma City-Fort Worth route. Most partner states are increase the frequency rather than adding new routes.
Consideration has also been given by the state to connecting Tulsa by rail to Kansas City, but the forum was told that Kansas does not have a partnership relationship with Amtrak as does Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas.
Passenger rail service should not dead end in Tulsa, Westcott said.
“While some of the (cost) numbers are scary,” Westcott said it is important to look at bringing rail service to Tulsa because it will be a key part of assured economic development.

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