Tulsa-OKC rail link pushed
BY KEVIN CANFIELD World Staff Writer
Monday, January 28, 2013
1/28/13 at 7:54 AM
Former City Councilor Rick Westcott hasn't given up on putting down train tracks between Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
In fact, he says, they already exist and should be used to provide conventional passenger rail service between the state's two largest cities - and the smaller communities in between.
"I believe it is good for Tulsa and also good for northeast Oklahoma," Westcott said.
In 2011, the Legislature passed House Bill 1686, creating the Eastern Flyer Passenger Rail Development Task Force. The task force's mission is to develop a public-private partnership to finance daily passenger train service between Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
The Tulsa City Council then established a local advisory committee, of which Westcott was a member. The state task force, as well as advisory committee, expired Dec. 31.
To continue the work of the advisory committee, the City Council late last year approved the establishment of the Eastern Flyer Passenger Rail Development Committee.
Westcott is a member of that incipient group and says one of its primary tasks is to educate the Legislature about the benefits of conventional rail service and its advantages over high-speed rail.
"Conventional rail would have stops along the way in Bristow, Claremore, Sapulpa ... and it would allow those citizens access to the train, but it would also bring a positive economic return to the towns along those routes," Westcott said.
Westcott said he has spoken to private passenger rail companies that say they could be operating within six months with a $50 million investment from the state.
The price tag is relatively inexpensive because an existing railway line between Tulsa and Oklahoma City is being used and maintained by a freight hauler, Westcott said.
"A private entity can do what the government can do - and do it better since it competes, for a lot less money, " Westcott said.
He said he does not want Amtrak to provide the service.
"One reason, in our opinion, is Amtrak takes advantage of their sole-provider status in a lot of areas of the country and they don't provide good competitive service," he said.
He said another downside to having Amtrak provide service is that it would likely run just one train a day in each direction and would be unable to provide special trains for events such as University of Oklahoma football games.
"The private carrier we talked to said they would run as many as four trips a day and they would run special trains in both directions," Westcott said.
Westcott acknowledged that $50 million is a large investment but said it is a bargain by comparison to road construction.
Reconstruction of Interstate 44 through Tulsa will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, Westcott said, whereas a $50 million investment would cover rail improvements over 110 miles.
The Heartland Flyer that runs from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth has shown that for every dollar invested, three-and-a-half dollars are generated, Westcott said.
"It is not something we think might happen; it has been proved," Westcott said.
City Councilor Blake Ewing said creating a conventional rail service would give Oklahoma City and Tulsa a chance to work together for the better good of the state.
"Allowing Tulsans and Oklahoma Cityans to get back and forth between these municipalities and our rural communities in between to have better access to our large cities is only a good thing for the state," he said.
Westcott said he envisions a conventional passenger rail service that does not stop in Tulsa. He wants to see it go throughout northeastern Oklahoma and beyond.
"If we could go from Tulsa to Kansas City to St. Louis, then we have the whole country opened to us," he said.
Kevin Canfield 918-581-8313