A Regional Vision...




Challenge to Wichita Councilor Meitzner
August 8, 2016

Evan Stair
President, Passenger Rail Oklahoma


       In November 2010 I traveled back to Oklahoma through freezing rain following a presentation at the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation. No thanks for my efforts, Wichita City Councilor Pete Meitzner, also in attendance critiqued my presentation mid-stream:

       "Know your audience. It should be the Kansas-Oklahoma-Texas Corridor!" This followed my use of the term Texas-Oklahoma-Kansas (TOK) corridor, a reference to Heartland Flyer expansion.

       My response was, "Where did this project start!" referencing the fact the Heartland Flyer was already running in Texas and Oklahoma.


       Rumor has it in 2014 Meitzner again argued with a now defunct Wichita passenger rail club. This club pleaded with Meitzner to dedicate more than a couple thousand dollars in seed funding for a federal TIGER Grant program request. Wichita's 2014 request was for a federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) study grant covering the TOK corridor. NEPA studies are required to qualify for federal transportation capital grants.

        Fortunately, Garden City beat Wichita in 2014. Garden City seeded more funding for an urgent Southwest Chief Track Improvement project and thus secured the TIGER grant. The Federal Railroad Administration grant kept the Southwest Chief in operation and thus preserved a future possibility the Heartland Flyer would one day connect with the Southwest Chief in Newton.

        Meitzner seems to summarily reject advocacy advice, but his recent foray shows he may be learning on his own. Meitzner was on hand in Newton Thursday when Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman disembarked from an Amtrak special for a few minutes to discuss Southwest Chief preservation and Heartland Flyer expansion. The expansion project would dramatically benefit both trains.

       Meitzner will apparently attempt to bypass the lengthy federal process and simply ask Amtrak what it will take to fill a 197-mile service gap between Oklahoma City and Newton. Meitzner was quoted in the Wichita Eagle on Thursday:

       "He said the city will send an application for service to Amtrak, which will then calculate how much local and/or state funding would be needed for track improvements and operational support to bring full passenger rail service to Wichita. Meitzner said Boardman’s visit to Kansas is, 'another positive step as we’re trying to close this gap.'"

       We wish the councilor success. Perhaps Meitzner should compare notes with a real master negotiator: Sal Pace, Southwest Chief Commissioner from Colorado. You see, Garden City is a part of Pace's multi-state organization that also secured 2015 TIGER funding for the Southwest Chief track rehabilitation project through a City of La Junta, Colorado application.

       Pace, also a Pueblo County Commissioner somehow bypassed federal requirements to garner millions in federal dollars for Southwest Chief route right-of-way improvements. Perhaps Meitzner, who apparently finds advocacy organizations distasteful, should also compare notes with Pace to identify ways around draconian Amtrak/ federal processes and reduce BNSF Railway's $156 million requirement for right of way improvements. This amount was discussed within Amtrak's 2010 Kansas Study as requested by the Kansas Department of Transportation.

       The challenge is on. Can Meitzner become a master negotiator like Pace and finally expand Heartland Flyer service where so many others have failed? Will Wichita get passenger rail service before Tulsa? We have always encouraged a friendly competition between the largest city in Kansas and the second largest in Oklahoma. So how about it Pete? Are you up to the challenge?

       Those in Kansas who want to encourage Councilor Meitzner should contact him at (316) 268-4331 or e-mail at pmeitzner@wichita.gov.

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Thruway Bus – Review
June 14, 2016

       About the Bus. A new Thruway Bus connects the Heartland Flyer, Wichita, and Southwest Chief routes. The route operates between Oklahoma City and Newton, Kansas with one intermediate stop in Wichita. We tried the new service as a part of a Las Vegas, New Mexico round trip last weekend.

       Test Run. We departed Friday evening on the Heartland Flyer, arriving six minutes late into Oklahoma City at 9:29 PM. The bus had not arrived. This was a bit disappointing as we were ready to get into an air-conditioned space due to the muggy evening. Passengers could wait in the under-track concourse without air conditioning or wait outside in the little breeze that was available.

       To Newton. The Village Tours charter bus arrived next to the sidewalk at 100 SE EK Gaylord at 10:30 PM. We were glad to get out of the heat. We left on-time at 10:40 PM and were on-time to catch a 25 minute late train 3, the Southwest Chief at 3:10 AM. We arrived in Las Vegas, New Mexico at 12:38 PM, 30 minutes late. We were just enough late to catch lunch on the train (included with a sleeping accommodation).

       To Oklahoma City. The return trip was uneventful. Train 4, the Southwest Chief was 19 minutes late into Las Vegas at 3:22 PM and 25 minutes late into Newton at 3:20 AM. You must check in with the Amtrak agent when you arrive. They want to ensure you make your bus connection. We boarded the bus for a 4:00 AM on-time departure. Everything worked smoothly from that point. The bus arrived with about an hour to spare for the on-time departure of the Heartland Flyer. Again, you can wait inside the Oklahoma City Santa Fe depot concourse or outside.

       What If? Missed Connections. I asked the Village Tours driver what happens if a bus connection is missed due to a late train. This almost happened Sunday night when the Heartland Flyer arrived in Oklahoma City at 11:17 PM, 1 hour and 54 minutes late. As it turns out this is handled on a case-by-case basis. The bus can wait an additional 30 minutes. Connecting train passengers on a very late train will likely be placed on a Greyhound bus. For example, a late Southwest Chief arrival that misses the 4:30 am bus departure will be placed on Greyhound. Still, the bus can wait longer if there are no passengers connecting with the Heartland Flyer. There are too many scenarios to list here.

       Bus Amenities. Here is a rundown of the 54 seat bus. The bus is positioned in Oklahoma City for the beginning of its round trip. WiFi is available. Leg room is somewhere between coach in a commercial airliner and an Amtrak coach. I am 6’0” so I could have used a bit more but the reclining seat helps. The temperature was nice and cool. If you are cold natured bring a blanket. A pillow is essential because the headrest is not quite enough. Bring something to drink in the event you get thirsty. Baggage is handled on the bus.

       Waiting Area. If the heat is oppressive in Oklahoma City, walk over to the hotel catty-corner to station and wait in the lobby. I will do this next time if I cannot find a breeze. Hopefully, I do not get chased off. I am also going to see if the city will provide some fans at the waiting area until the Santa Fe depot project is complete.

       Patronage. Twelve passengers were on our trip Friday to Newton and eight for the return Monday. Greater than anticipated ridership has surprised Amtrak and the carrier. Passenger Rail Oklahoma could have told them a long time ago, we need more than a bus, a train would make things so much better.


ODOT/ TxDOT Heartland Flyer RFQ Released
June 8, 2016

    Heartland Flyer RFQ Summary. Passenger Rail Oklahoma has learned a group of service providers, including Amtrak, Iowa Pacific Holdings (IPH), Corridor Capital, Herzog Transit, Keolis, and Veolia-Transdev were mailed a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) June 1, 2016. This preliminary investigative process may lead to an unbundling of the sole-source Amtrak Heartland Flyer contract established in 1999. IPH is already serving as a provider in Indiana with the unbundled Amtrak Hoosier State service. This could eventually lead to a seamless Tulsa-Oklahoma City-Fort Worth service and long anticipated Kansas expansion.

    Why an RFQ? Rapidly increasing Amtrak costs and 2016 Oklahoma legislative budget actions necessitated the move. Last month the Oklahoma Legislature swept clean a $5 million revolving fund reserve, which in past years had been used to cushion Heartland Flyer costs. Amtrak’s currently charges Oklahoma $3.7 million while the state appropriates just $2.85 million. The $850,000 deficit necessitated this action.

    Cafeteria Plan in RFQ. ODOT/ TxDOT have proposed a cafeteria plan. Up for consideration are the following offerings:

        -Train Crews
        -Rolling Stock
        -Train Maintenance
        -On-Board Food and Beverage
        -Ticketing

    RFQ Requirements-Process. Providers must include specific comments regarding several aspects of service. These include proposed liability coverage/ insurance and labor relations. Details of their working relationship with host railroads (BNSF Railway and Amtrak) must also be included. The informal process is investigative in nature. It may or may not lead to a Request for Proposal (RFP). An RFQ timeline was provided in the letter:

The informal process is investigative in nature. It may or may not lead to a Request for Proposal (RFP). An RFQ timeline was provided in the letter:

        1. Provider questions due by Noon June 8
        2. Response to Providers Questions due by 4:00 PM June 13
        3. Providers submissions due by Noon June 22

    Goals. ODOT/ TxDOT indicated in the release a goal of increasing train service to twice daily. Passenger Rail Oklahoma believes capital cost requirements to add the second frequency will be prohibitive. However, the investigative process will likely lead to some surprises. There is hope Amtrak will work more effectively to bring capital requirements for a second frequency and Kansas expansion in line with reality based upon this action.

    Summary. Passenger Rail Oklahoma believes the RFQ will serve notice to Amtrak. States are becoming impatient with what has become a half-complete project (stub end Heartland Flyer, terminating in Oklahoma City). Expansions to Tulsa and into Kansas are long overdue. Amtrak's monopoly on state supplemental services has generated an anti- competitive dam that when broken, will hopefully result in service expansion nationwide.


Heartland Flyer Preserved for This Year!
May 27, 2016

ODOT informed us today the Heartland Flyer has been saved for FY-2017. However, the legislature left the train with what could be a mortal wound.

Amtrak requires Oklahoma to pay $3.7 million annually for service. However, the state only appropriates $2.84 million annually. ODOT is using funding from their general budget to fill the gap. Passenger Rail Oklahoma is highly appreciative. This has been approved by ODOT Executive Director Mike Patterson.

The legislature raided a $5 million reserve in the Oklahoma Tourism and Passenger Rail Revolving fund. This fund was built up in years when Amtrak charged less than $2.84 million. As late as 2009 Amtrak was only charging Oklahoma $1.95 million.

As a result of Amtrak's rapidly increasing costs, ODOT will issue a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to various carriers next Wednesday. Within the RFQ, ODOT will request a doubling of the present frequency at the current service cost.

In Other News...

New Stop. ODOT and the Chickasaw Nation have approved a stop for Thackerville, Oklahoma. The Chickasaw Nation will build a period station. Thackerville is the home of WinStar Casino.

Thruway Bus Impresses. The Thruway bus service connecting the Heartland Flyer (Oklahoma City) and the Southwest Chief (Newton, Kansas) is sold out for the Memorial Day weekend.

Legislature Raids Oklahoma Railroad Rehabilitation Revolving Fund. The state legislature swept clean the Oklahoma Railroad Rehabilitation Revolving Fund. $26.6 Million remained in the fund from the $75 million Sooner Subdivision line sale.


Heartland Flyer Decision This Week
May 21, 2016

The Heartland Flyer budget decision will be made in budget deals this upcoming week. Once the final budget is announced, we will still have to do some digging. We trust state Representative Richard Morrissette's staff will get the answer quickly.

   
We would like to personally thank Representative Morrissette and his staff for 12-years of service. He will be missed by those who support passenger rail service. He is running for Corporation Commission which is excellent news. We encourage everyone to cast a vote for him.

The legislature has put off a budget vote until next week, the last week of the session. House Speaker Jeff Hickman indicated state agencies will see an overall cut of $300 million. Representative Earl Sears indicated the $1.3 billion budget hole will be filled through the elimination of some tax credits and expected bond packages.


April 29, 2016. ACTION ALERT!!!

Know Your Audience: Be smarter than the average bear!

April 28, 2016

   
Our Action Alerts are still in effect. See below and take action! However, what do you say when you call a state or city official?

Everyone knows the first rule of public speaking, “Know your audience.” We say, “Know what makes your audience tick!”

As fiscal stewards, legislators will only want to discuss the economic impact of passenger rail. Avoid history, nostalgia, and kids need a train ride discussions, unless you can tie the associated tourism revenues garnered from the train. We were corrected many years ago. The color of tourism money is still green.

This is why we pound the Texas Transportation Institute study, Measuring the Benefits of Intercity Passenger Rail: A Study of the Heartland Flyer Corridor, so hard. To refresh, Heartland Flyer passengers spent $17 million in Heartland Flyer communities during FY-2015 of which $1.3 was collected in local sales taxes. This is derived from a 2009 onboard TTI survey.

Be smarter than the average bear!


April 25, 2016. ACTION ALERT!!!

Ending Heartland Flyer Service Would Hurt State Economy

April 25, 2016


Few state programs can boast a one-year $22 million positive direct economic impact. The Heartland Flyer is such a program. This 2012 statistic reflects a high-point in annual passenger spending in the train’s communities.

Since the Texas Transportation Institute released, Measuring the Benefits of Intercity Passenger Rail: A Study of the Heartland Flyer Corridor, approximately $122 million dollars have been spent in Heartland Flyer communities. More importantly, $9.4 million have been collected in sales taxes.

The life blood of our communities, including imperiled schools, is a sound tax revenue base. Heartland Flyer discontinuance; therefore, would only increase the crisis. Think about this before you let the state legislature cut state passenger rail funding.

   
Contact the following state legislators TODAY!

Senator Clark Jolley
Appropriations Committee Chair
2300 N. Lincoln Blvd., Rm. 537
Oklahoma City, OK 73105
(405) 521-5622

Representative Earl Sears
Appropriations & Budget, Chair
2300 N. Lincoln Blvd.
Room 432D
Oklahoma City, OK 73105
(405) 557-7358

Please consider the financial condition of the state as you cast your votes in November.



April 20, 2016. ACTION ALERT!!!

The Journal Record reports, Heartland Flyer funding is in jeopardy. State Senator Dan Newberry indicated, “With such a large budget shortfall, the state should reconsider whether to subsidize the train.” State Representative Earl Sears indicated the fund “may be trimmed a little bit.”

Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) statements followed. Director Mike Patterson of ODOT expressed extreme concerned lawmakers will end the annual subsidy to the southbound connection. “We really believe the Heartland Flyer brings to the state of Oklahoma an alternative mode of transportation for those who can’t drive (or) don’t want to drive.” Craig Moody, Rail Programs Division Manager at ODOT is quoted as saying, “If (state support of) passenger rail service was discontinued, this would be the beginning of the end for the Heartland Flyer.”

Evan Stair, President, Passenger Rail Oklahoma commenting on the story said, “There is no trimming that can be done. The state appropriates just $2.85 million each year. Amtrak is asking for more than that this year.” Stair continued, “Shutting down the Heartland Flyer will remove $13 million in economic activity for FY-2017 of which $1.3 million are collected in sales taxes.” Stair encouraged those who want to save the service to contact the Senator and Representative:

State Senator Dan Newberry
(405) 521-5600
newberry@oksenate.gov

State Representative Earl Sears
(405) 521-5600
earl.sears@okhouse.gov

Board of Directors
Passegner Rail Oklahoma



April 15, 2016. ACTION ALERT!!!
We have learned Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. is not working with the Tulsa City Council to kick start the Eastern Flyer project. You can help! Contact his office today. Indicate your support for the Eastern Flyer and request he get behind the project along with the City Council.

Board of Directors
Passenger Rail Oklahoma



April 13, 2016. Watco Letter to ODOT

As we promised earlier in the day, we have posted the letter from Watco Corporation addressed to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT). This letter is subject to the Oklahoma Open Records Act, so we post it here for your information as a part of the people's business.


There are some surpirses. In summary here are the details:

     1. Sooner Subdivision Class-III Federal Railroad Administration Compliancy is ready for test.
     2. Passenger Rail Service will begin before August 4, 2019
     3. Land acquisition for the reconstruction of the Cushing rail line is 98 percent complete.

We at Passenger Rail Oklahoma are cautiously optimistic this passenger project will be implemented. Restoring a long abandoned rail route is an unprecedented development in the United States. The news strikes us as miraculous. We hope this is only the beginning of such restorations.

Board of Directors
Passenger Rail Oklahoma



April 13, 2016. Will Tulsa Have a Stop?

Industry experts agree. Tulsa needs to do a better job or risk not being included in the Eastern Flyer project. Will the Tulsa City Council take action?



Three key action items have been identified for the City of Tulsa:

     1. Schedule a Meeting. A BNSF Railway-ODOT-Stillwater Central Meeting must convene.
     The agenda should include a discussion of a 99-Year Buyer's Passenger Service Rights
      agreement and a station location. The agreement, purchased by the state in 1998, requires
      the BNSF Railway to provide access for up to four daily passenger trains between Sapulpa
      and downtown Tulsa. BNSF Railway must provide capital upgrades.

     2. A Station Location. Initial Eastern Flyer operations will require a small amount of real
      estate adjacent to BNSF Railway tracks to provide parking and train access. Whether a
      depot structure is required is still to be determined.

     3. A Station Platform. An American with Disabilities Act (ADA) station platform will be
      required.

Contact your local city councilmember at http://www.tulsacouncil.org. Let them know you support this project. Encourage them to work on the three points referenced above.


April 10, 2016: Vista Dome on Southwest Chief July 6-July 8



Some of our members occasionally like to take an upscale trip on the Southwest Chief. This involves booking space on a private rail car. On July 6, 2016 Train 4 (eastbound) will depart Los Angeles Union Station with the Silver Solarium , a former Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Vista-Dome, Observation, Sleeper-Lounge. As of this date a second car, the Silver Rapids, another sleeper will be added if five more commit to booking this trip.

This is a rare occasion. You will get about as close to reliving a Super Chief style journey as possible. The Super Chief was a Los Angeles-Chicago passenger train that operated over essentially the same route as Amtrak's Southwest Chief. The Super Chief was an all Pullman Santa Fe Railway sleeping car train. It disappeared in 1974 when Amtrak's service standards dropped dramatically.

We have developed a list of the top five reasons to book this trip as follows:

      1. It is the Southwest Chief.
      2. It is a Vista Dome.
      3. Semaphores in New Mexico are endangered.
      4. The "clickety-clack" sound of jointed rail is rapidly being replaced by welded rail.
      5. YOU need a break from the routine.

Book today at California Zephyr Railcar Charters. Click on the image above.



April 3, 2016: What you should know about the Eastern Flyer

In 1998 the state of Oklahoma purchased a BNSF Railway line between Sapulpa and Oklahoma City. It was barely good for 10-mph and scheduled for abandonment.

Forward thinking state legislators encouraged the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) to purchase the line for future use between the state’s two largest metropolitan areas.

Quickly, the state leased the line to WATCO Corporation. Under a 1998 lease contract , the state required the WATCO (in the name of the brand new Stillwater Central Railroad) to install 10,000 new ties per year on the line.

By 2013 the full rail line and business had been restored. The route became a hostile takeover target for the railroad that was ready to abandon it in 1998, the BNSF.

Unfortunately, the state sold the railroad despite public protests. Still, the sale went to WATCO rather than BNSF. We certainly hope the Stillwater Central lives up to the sale agreement.

This agreement requires the railroad to provide a pilot commuter rail project, seven days a week for six months with two frequencies (two to the northeast and two to the southwest) daily by 2019.

1.The Union Pacific Railroad must complete its $50,000 capital improvement study for the City of Oklahoma City to get the “Eastern Flyer” the final four miles into downtown. Oklahoma City must agree to terms and fund the improvement project.

2.Iowa Pacific Holdings stated in January they could run the service. Stillwater Central has tagged them as the operator.

3. Tulsa must bring the BNSF Railway, ODOT, Stillwater Central Railroad to the bargaining table to interpret a 1998 Buyer’s Rights agreement that would allow the state to name a carrier. This carrier would operate the final 18 miles between Sapulpa and downtown Tulsa.

4.The communities, specifically Chandler, Stroud, Sapulpa, and Tulsa must find locations for depots and build support infrastructure. Bristow has a depot and Oklahoma City’s depot is used already for Heartland Flyer (OKC-Fort Worth) service.

This must all complete by 2019. If not, the Stillwater Central Railroad will be penalized $2.8 million by the state for failing to live up to the agreement. Other penalties also apply.

Granted, a lot can happen between then and now. However, everyone needs to remain positive and talk up the prospect. Keep your city councils on point. Don't take "no" for an answer.


March 29, 2016: OKC to Acquire Streetcars

Railway Age Magazine reports the City of Oklahoma City is acquiring streetcars in its article, "Oklahoma City, Brookville agree to streetcar deal." This will bring Oklahoma City into the 21st Century and prepare for a Railvolution in the state. We only ask why Tulsa is not moving forward with similar planning.

   


March 29, 2016: Where Do Heartland Flyer Passengers Come From?

In March 2010 the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) released a landmark study. Measuring the Benefits of Intercity Passenger Rail: A Study of the Heartland Flyer Corridor Measuring the Benefits of Intercity Passenger Rail: A Study of the Heartland Flyer Corridor, included the following graphic. The figure shows the spread of Heartland Flyer ridership by zip code for July 2009.

   

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contact Evan Stair at EvanStair@PassengerRailOK.org

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