The Oklahoma House unanimously passed HR 1036 today, a big boost for expanding passenger rail service on the Heartland Flyer.
The House expressed support for the extension of Amtrak service between Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Newton, Kansas; expressing support for a multi-state partnership between Amtrak and the states through which service operates; urging the Oklahoma Congressional Delegation to take notice in an upcoming passenger rail authorization bill.
The resolution was jointly authored by Oklahoma Representatives Ken Luttrell (Ponca City), John Pfeiffer (Tulsa-Deputy House Floor Leader) and Gary Mize (Guthrie), all Republicans.
The Heartland Flyer currently operates daily between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City under a joint partnership agreement between the Texas and Oklahoma Departments of Transportation.
The House resolution noted "numerous studies conducted by universities in Texas and Kansas have determined the economic benefit of Amtrak's Heartland Flyer passenger rail service and its extension to be at least three to one for every dollar spent" and that "Amtrak has approached the State of Oklahoma to enter into a multi-operational partnership for an extended Heartland Flyer, with connecting service between Amtrak's Southwest Chief and Texas Eagle".
According to the resolution, ridership on the Heartland Flyer extension from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to Newton, Kansas, is anticipated to double if connected with the Southwest Chief in Newton, Kansas. It further stated that the COVID-19 Virus state of emergency and steps taken to battle the virus have highlighted the need for safer travel options to enable residents in small cities to reach needed medical centers and to provide methods of travel to the many travelers who can no longer travel in airplanes due to their medical situations.
Rail Passengers Association Oklahoma Council Representative Gary Lanman said "we appreciate the complete support of the Oklahoma House of Representatives in passing HR1036. It is an important step in expanding passenger rail from Texas to Kansas and to many towns and cities in the country." Rail Passengers Council Representative Malcolm Kenton assisted Lanman in pushing for support of the resolution.
The Kansas Department of Transportation has been the recipient of several federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants that have improved the Southwest Chief tracks. The Southwest Chief serves several communities in the state of Kansas and laid the groundwork for the planning and development of expanded passenger rail services. The Kansas House and Senate passed funding for the operational expenses of the Heartland Flyer extension from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to Newton, Kansas and the Governor of the State of Kansas has proposed to dedicate funds in the Kansas state budget for preliminary work for the development of additional passenger rail service.
Amtrak has presented to the 2020 Committee on Ways and Means of the Kansas Senate a plan to request one hundred percent (100%) in federal funding for passenger rail development of the Heartland Flyer extension through reauthorization of the FAST Act in Congress.
The Oklahoma resolution further states that "the House of Representatives urges the Oklahoma Congressional Delegation to support the inclusion of federal funding for the full implementation and development of the Heartland Flyer extension from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to Newton, Kansas, in the upcoming reauthorization" and that "the House of Representative urges the Oklahoma Congressional Delegation to support the inclusion of full federal funding for the maintenance of the Southwest Chief in the upcoming reauthorization."