May 26, 2016 -

Passenger Rail Oklahoma reports that the Oklahoma Department of Transportation has informed the rail advocacy organization that funding for the Heartland Flyer service between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City has been approved for FY-2017.  However, the legislature left the train with a possible mortal wound for next year.  Next year will be an even more difficult battle.  Everyone needs to redouble efforts to stay informed.  Cities need to be on the point if the legislature fails next year.

Amtrak requires Oklahoma to pay $3.7 million annually for service. However, the state only appropriates $2.84 million.  ODOT was forced to use funding from their general budget to fill the gap and a $500k Texas gap that is supplied by the Texas Department of Transportation.  This has been approved by ODOT Executive Director Mike Patterson for which Passenger Rail Oklahoma is highly appreciative.

Had ODOT not filled the gap the train would have been discontinued.  The legislature raided an $5 million Oklahoma Tourism and Passenger  Rail Revolving fund reserve to fill part of the $1.3 Billion state budget gap.  The fund was built up in years when Amtrak charged less than $2.84 million.  As late as 2009 Amtrak was only charging Oklahoma $1.95 million.  Amtrak's rapidly increasing costs, blamed on PRIIA Section 209 almost cost Oklahoma and north Texas a train.

We hope this serves Amtrak notice that their costs are much too high. We believe there is wiggle room in Amtrak's enterprise, even considering Amtrak's interpretation of Section 209 costs, to do better.

As a result of Amtrak's rapidly increasing costs, ODOT will issue a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to various carriers next Wednesday.  Within  the RFQ, ODOT will request a doubling of the present frequency at the current service cost.  Passenger Rail Oklahoma emphatically endorses ODOT's attempt to bring contractual costs in line with reality.

In Other News...

New Stop.  ODOT and the Chickasaw Nation have approved a stop for Thackerville, Oklahoma.  Thackerville, home of the WinStar Casino, is located  just north of the Oklahoma-Texas line.  The Chickasaw Nation will build a period station. Our hope is this project will be successful and the Chickasaw nation will consider some operational funding in the future.

Thruway Bus Impresses.  The Thruway bus service connecting the Heartland Flyer (Oklahoma City) and the Southwest Chief (Newton, Kansas) is sold out for the Memorial Day weekend.  We have said since the Heartland Flyer was introduced in 1999 that it should have continued the 197 miles to at least Newton.  The bus is proving us right.

Legislature Raids Oklahoma Railroad Rehabilitation Revolving Fund.  The state legislature swept clean the Oklahoma Railroad Rehabilitation Revolving Fund.  $26.6 Million remained in the fund from the $75 million Sooner Subdivision line sale.

Eastern Flyer.  There is still no word from Tulsa or Oklahoma City regarding progress to connect the state's two largest metropolitan areas.  Plans to access downtown Oklahoma City and exercise the state's Buyer's Passenger Service Rights from the BNSF Railway have not moved in six months.