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Lawmakers Explore Expanding Heartland Flyer, Adding Stops To Keep It Viable

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On Wednesday, state lawmakers explored the costs and the benefits of passenger rail service between Oklahoma City and the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.

State Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Springer, requested the interim study to look at Amtrak's Heartland Flyer line. He's concerned that even though Oklahoma's roughly $3 million annual contribution makes up about 60 percent of the two states' subsidies to the rail service, Texas receives more of an economic benefit.

“I know that the nature of the beast right now when it comes to passenger rail service [is that it] can't survive without public subsidy,” Simpson said. “We just want to make sure that the money that we're spending is effective and we're getting a return on the dollars that we're spending.”

The contract with Amtrak is currently renewed on an annual basis. Simpson said both Oklahoma City and Ardmore are investing millions in upgrading passenger rail facilities, and a longer-term guarantee would be more beneficial.

Greater Oklahoma City Chamber president Roy Williams told lawmakers peer cities like Denver and Salt Lake City are expanding passenger rail service to help deal with traffic congestion, and the Heartland Flyer could be critical to that in Oklahoma City.

"We believe that we should learn from others, and see what others have done, and seen how the have leveraged these alternative transportation investments to make their communities more attractive,” Williams said.

The committee also heard about research that says continuing the Heartland Flyer to Kansas could double ridership, and connect the state to additional destinations.

There was also talk of building an Amtrak stop in Thackerville near the Winstar Casino, which the Chickasaw Nation's Neal McCaleb said could bring more Texans into the state to spend money.

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Brian Hardzinski worked at KGOU from 2009 to 2017.
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