Letter to the Editor: All aboard
BY Richard Geary, Oklahoma City
Saturday, July 21, 2012
7/21/12 at 2:43 AM
Before 1999, Oklahoma and Maine were two of four continental U.S. states without Amtrak passenger rail service. The Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 provided seed funding to restart services in these states. The Heartland Flyer made its first run June 14, 1999, on a 206-mile Oklahoma City-Fort Worth, Texas, route. The Downeaster began operating twice daily on a 119-mile route between Boston's North Station and Portland, Maine, in 2001.
Notable differences exist today between the Maine and Oklahoma trains. The Heartland Flyer remains unchanged, a single daily frequency carrying 92,000 travelers for FY 2012. The Downeaster has grown, and is now operating with five daily round trips and carrying nearly 530,000 riders annually.
Oklahoma numbers, while impressive for a single frequency, could be better with expansion of passenger rail to Tulsa.
A state task force, enabled through the Eastern Flyer Passenger Rail Development Act, is now studying such expansion using a state owned rail route. A Tulsa Rail Advisory committee has been established to provide support. The proposed commuter rail service would connect Tulsa with Amtrak's Heartland Flyer, providing additional economic development opportunities in Sapulpa, Bristow, Stroud, and Chandler. The draw for events such as Oklahoma City Thunder games or Tulsa BOK Center concerts should not be underestimated.
If implemented, the service would unify state economic centers.
The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority manages the Downeaster. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation manages the Heartland Flyer.
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