A resolution supporting the extension of passenger rail service from Oklahoma City to Newton, KS, was adopted unanimously by the House of Representatives on Wednesday.
House Resolution 1036, by State Reps. Ken Luttrell, R-Ponca City, John Pfeiffer, R-Orlando, and Garry Mize, R-Guthrie, supports the extension of Amtrak passenger rail service between the two cities and expresses support for a multistate partnership between Amtrak and the states through which it operates. The measure also urges Oklahoma’s Congressional delegation to take action in securing federal funding for the project.
“For those of us who represent districts off of the Interstate 35 corridor north of Oklahoma City, our citizens find themselves in a transportation desert, with no access to air, bus or rail travel” Luttrell and Mize said in a joint statement. “Passenger rail service from Oklahoma City to Newton, Kansas, is vitally important to our communities for transportation, tourism and economic development.”
Luttrell and Mize said the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need for safer travel options to allow residents in small cities to reach needed medical centers, particularly for those people who can no longer travel by airplane because of their medical condition.
The two also said passenger rail service will generate economic and environmental benefits for the state and region.
The resolution notes that numerous studies conducted by universities in Texas and Kansas show an economic benefit of Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer passenger rail service and its extension to be at least three to one for every dollar spent. Amtrak has suggested a partnership with the State of Oklahoma to extend Heartland Flyer service, which currently runs between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, TX, by connecting service between Amtrak’s Southwest Chief and Texas Eagle.
Fully funded maintenance of the Southwest Chief is a vital component of the extension.
The two lawmakers said the Kansas Legislature is equally supportive of the measure, which would request federal funding for the development of the Heartland Flyer extension in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. They point out that the Kansas Department of Transportation has already been the recipient of several federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants that have improved the Southwest Chief tracks.
The Kansas Legislature also already has passed the new Eisenhower Legacy Transportation Program, which includes money for the operational expenses of the Heartland Flyer extension, and the Kansas governor has proposed to dedicate funds in the Kansas state budget for preliminary work for the development of additional passenger rail service.
Amtrak also has presented to the 2020 Committee on Ways and Means of the Kansas Senate a plan to request 100% federal funding for the extension.