October 5, 2022 - TRA Newswire -

Three states: Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas have requested U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Railroad Administration Amit Bose to consider expansion of the daily Heartland Flyer from Fort Worth to Newton, Kansas.

Texas Rail Advocates has obtained a copy of a letter, which will appear in the Federal Register, that asks the nations' transportation leaders to give "full and fair consideration to the Heartland Flyer Northern Extension Project to be included in the Corridor Identification and Development Plan, part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act", passed by Congress last year. The Corridor Identification and Development Plan, section 22308 of the IIJA, contains funding for both capital improvements and start-up operating support for passenger rail service. 

Currently, the Heartland Flyer runs a single round-trip each day between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City. The service, run by Amtrak, is a joint partnership of the Oklahoma and Texas Department of Transportation. An Amtrak Thruway bus connects passengers from Oklahoma City to Newton, Kansas where riders change for the cross-country Amtrak Southwest Chief that serves cities and towns from Los Angeles to Chicago, including Kansas CIty. 

In the letter, the states indicates that "The long-awaited, full re-connection of this corridor in America's Heartland would provide increased transportation choices and economic opportunity for rural and urban residents and businesses alike. This corridor designation is the first step in this vital 400-mile re-connection."

"This is a great cooperative step forward by all three states," according to Texas Rail Advocates Peter LeCody. "It sets the stage to develop a Intercity Passenger Rail Commission, the next logical step in improving service along the entire I-35 corridor, in my opinion, from Kansas City, Missouri all the way to Laredo, Texas. Multi-state Intercity Commissions can be funded under the IIJA."

There has been extensive preliminary studies and planning over the past 15 years to extend the service north to Newton, Kansas  as well as adding additional frequencies between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City. A 2010 study conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute at A&M showed a positive economic impact from current service.

In 2013 the FRA started a Service Level/Tier 1 EIS along with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). The Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study, called TOPRS, columinated with a positive report for potential new and/or improved high-speed intercity passenger rail service along an 850-mile corridor from Oklahoma through North Texas, Austin, San Antonio to Laredo.

"Restoring the Heartland Flyer between Texas and Kansas through Oklahoma is an important means of fully connecting the nation's fastest growing economic development corridor along Interstate 35 (Laredo-Kansas City), " as stated in the letter. "The area boasts over 40 million people in population, 10 million jobs, and a 28 percent growth rate. The Heartland Flyer extension has the full support and backing of the Oklahoma and Kansas Departments of Transportation, every Chamber of Commerce in Oklahoma and over 20 cities in all three states" Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker issued a letter of support on June 16, 2022.