Just as Guthrie’s historic depot has been renovated in preparation to offer service to train patrons once again, Amtrak threatens to eliminate western network trains by shifting all federal funding to the Boston-Washington DC Northeast Corridor.
This comes as a surprise following Amtrak’s successful OKC-Kansas City inspection train operation in June 2017 that led to work to restore connections from the Heartland Flyer route with the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief in Kansas.
However, Amtrak management changed course with their new CEO, Richard Anderson, who may derail the possibility of passenger service in Guthrie along with all of the southwest. Anderson proposed bus service replace the Southwest Chief train within Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico starting as early as January 1.
If the Southwest Chief is discontinued, the Oklahoma Heartland Flyer’s potential of northern connection would likely be eliminated.
“This is the most critical time in the Heartland Flyer’s future we have faced,” said Friends of Passenger Rail representatives.
With this threat looming, supporters of passenger rail are rallying to save the transportation service.
US Senator Jerry Moran (R- Kan.) compared Amtrak and US Postal Service recently, insisting that supporting rural America is important.
“Would we close all post offices at locations with fewer than say 1 million residents and refuse service to those who live in rural areas? This is Amtrak’s proposal with the Southwest Chief,” Moran said. “Indeed, it is time again for passenger rail growth, not retrenchment.”
Earlier this year, the House voted on a motion to go to conference with the Senate on the second minibus spending package (H.R. 6147), a bill that included an amendment to fund Southwest Chief route improvements. According to the Friends of Passenger Rail Facebook page, Amtrak is opposing this legislation in Congress in an attempt to dismantle the national network.
“There was a vote to replace trains with buses that was overwhelmingly shot down. The people have already spoken that they want trains,” Abby Ropp, co-owner of the Guthrie Depot, said. “The (Amtrak) CEO doesn’t believe people want to ride trains any more. If the train came back, the ridership would be there.”
One former Oklahoma resident, Elle Lucas, rode the train from Oklahoma City to Dallas at least once a month for the last three years before she moved to Texas earlier this year.
“It was easier to take the train than to drive,” Lucas said. “It’s relaxing. You can do your work, there’s free wifi and you can bring your own food or purchase from the snack cart. The seats are wide and they recline. It’s like a first class plane ride.”
Other millennials agree that the train is the best travel option.
“I will not travel because I hate driving hours and hours in a car with two small children or going through an airport with car seats and all that. It’s a nightmare, but I would love to travel by train,” said Kailyn Swonger, a local business owner and mother. “When and if the train comes back, we’ll be out of here like a shot and go anywhere and everywhere. It’s safe. It’s fast. It’s reliable and it’s fun; it’s just the most convenient form of transportation for millennials.”
Lucas said the train is always a pleasurable travel experience for her and her son, JoJo.
“The conductor is really nice and he stops and talks to your kids. It’s such a relaxing experience and since you can read or nap or work and get to your location, it seems faster than driving plus there’s no traffic,” Lucas said. “I really, really enjoy it. My son enjoys it too. I’d hate to see it go. It’s so convenient and I tell everyone about it — it’s always full. People are using it.”
“It’s frustrating that 70-year-old men are deciding what millennials want,” Swonger added. “The train is very nostalgic. We need people to let these leaders know that we want the train.”
Evan Stair, President of Passenger Rail Oklahoma and Kansas, believes it’s not too late for citizens to affect change at this point. Her grass roots advocacy organizations are dedicated to the preservation and expansion of passenger rail service in Oklahoma, Kansas and the surrounding region. They have organized a summit to provide further information about passenger rail.
The Kansas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Summit will be held October 12, 2018 from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Great Overland Station located at 701 N Kansas Ave, Topeka, Kansas. Lunch will be provided. Visit http://www.greatoverlandstation.com/ for more details.
Passenger rail advocates urge citizens to contact their US Representative in addition to Representative Tom Cole’s office to ask them to support Senator Moran’s amendment #3665 to a minibus appropriations bill H.R. 6147. This amendment must be added to the house version of the bill to fund repairs to the Southwest Chief routes. Representative Cole’s contact information:
2424 Springer Dr., Suite 201, Norman, OK 73069
Phone: (405) 329-6500
The Norman, Purcell, Pauls Valley, and Ardmore Heartland Flyer stops are in Representative Cole’s district.