[Ok-sus] Evan Stair: HEARTLAND FLYER and Maine's DOWNEASTER -- compared

Tom Elmore gtelmore at aol.com
Wed Nov 14 10:56:52 CST 2012

(Make sure to read the article from the Bangor Daily News linked below this article)

A Tale of Two Trains... The Heartland Flyer… The Downeaster… 

The Heartland Flyer.  The year was 1997.  U.S. Senator Don Nickles had secured $23 million from the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, intended to restart Oklahoma passenger rail service.  He apparently had to force ODOT to take action several years later.  
The year was 1999.  The Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) began managing Amtrak's state supplemental train, the Heartland Flyer.  The train's initial stops are no different than what exists today, Oklahoma City, Norman, Purcell, Pauls Valley, Ardmore, Gainesville, TX and Fort Worth (206 miles).  
The natural northern Heartland Flyer terminal was Kansas City where connections could be made with the northern U.S. passenger rail network.  This natural route would have created a Dallas/Ft. Worth - Kansas City passenger rail route non-existent 1979.  
However, ODOT chose to throw cold water on the promising pilot expansion project.  The project was to use Mail/ Express to cover much of the Heartland Flyer's costs.  ODOT chose to stub end the service in Oklahoma City.  This limited ridership, but more egregiously ensured that the Heartland Flyer would be perpetually dependent upon taxpayer funds.
The Heartland Flyer has changed little over the past 13 years.  It runs about 20-mph faster between Oklahoma City and the Red River.  The biking community protested the 2007 removal of bike racks when Hi-Level equipment was replaced with Superliner equipment.  There was no official action as Amtrak considers the state DOT their customer.  No WiFi is available.  Despite this lack of customer focus ridership has grown. 
The Downeaster.  In 2001 the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA) was successful in starting the state supplemental Downeaster Amtrak train between Boston, MA and Portland, ME (116-miles).  The investment was modest, about $39 million in 1994 funding, just like that which began the Heartland Flyer.  
However, this is where the comparison diverges.  As of November 1, 2012 the Downeaster began operating between Freeport and Brunswick, ME; an additional 29 miles tacked on to its five daily frequencies.  The average daily ridership is 1,480 with an FY-2012 ridership of 541,757 passengers.  WiFi service was deployed on the trains many years ago.  
Avoided Benefit.  As we approach 2013 the differences between the Downeaster and the Heartland Flyer are staggering.  Oklahoma is in possession of clear economic benefit information that would show passenger rail expansion as practical and necessary.  The Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) quantified this benefit in 2010.  Their study, Measuring the Benefits of Intercity Passenger Rail: A Study of the Heartland Flyer Corridor (page 123) detailed return on state investments.  Oklahoma and Texas combined in 2009 for $3.95 million in subsidies for the service.  After the fare-box revenues were estimated at $18 million.  
Measuring the Benefits of Intercity Passenger Rail: A Study of the Heartland Flyer Corridorhttp://swutc.tamu.edu/publications/technicalreports/169116-1.pdf
NNEPRA:  The NNEPRA mission is clear.  Simply by NNEPRA existence, the state of Maine has shown dedication to passenger rail development.  This is the template that can be used in Oklahoma to restart Tulsa-Oklahoma City passenger rail service.  Why is Oklahoma avoiding this obvious economic benefit?  The good people with the Tulsa Community Business Group understand.
Evan Stair
Passenger Rail Oklahoma


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