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High speed rail fever strikes in Oklahoma

The State Transportation Director, Gary Ridley, says Oklahoma officials are reviewing the latest FRA documents in consideration of making an application for high speed rail funding. The Daily Oklahoman story indicates that the Sooner State may be part of the South Central HSR corridor. TFA thinks they are mistaken, but that should not hold back a qualified application.

“We need to look at the guidance and understand it fully before putting together our response,” Ridley said after the state Transportation Commission met Monday.

The Transportation Department already owns a portion of the railway between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, but updates would be needed to make the track conducive to high-speed travel, Ridley said.

“It’s rough country up there,” he said.

A study conducted nine years ago estimated it would cost at least $950 million to run passenger rail between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Today, that could be closer to $1.5 billion, Ridley said.

Although unlikely to be selected as a demonstration project, The Oklahoma City-Tulsa corridor is a natural for HSR.

  • driving distance is about 100 miles
  • state owns much of the existing rail line (which needs lots of work)
  • state owns turnpike right-of-way (could this land be used? It’s straight as an arrow.)
  • Oklahoma City pop. 1,200,000 plus
  • Tulsa pop.685,000
  • interfaces with an upgraded Heartland Flyer service to DFW.

The quality of public transportation in both cities would be an important factor and that is a subject on which I am not able to comment. It seems to make sense that Oklahoma should get moving on improving the existing track to “high performance rail” standards and start operating in the 100 mph range.

Oh, look at that! 100 miles at 100 mph gives you a travel time of about one-hour end-to-end. Why haven’t they figuted this out already? And here’s the good part; it would not cost anything approaching the afore mentioned $1.5 billion.

The total construction on this is probably more like $250 million. Trains departing each end on the hour all day and scheduled at a running time of around 75 minutes is a big winner.

Oklahoma should forget European-style HSR and get moving on “high performance rail” tomorrow. It will change that already vibrant region forever.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail, United States High Speed Rail

7 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    OKC and Tulsa are both on the South Central map published by FRA, so those of us supporting rail here in OKC assume that means we’re in it.

    As for the quality of public transportation in each city – I live in OKC, and we have one of the least-serving transit systems in the country… City Council recently voted to upgrade service from once every 1.5 hours to about 40 minutes between buses!

  2. Chris G says:

    To Paul: I know this will sound terrible, but thats more than double the frequency. Its a step in the right direction even if you have a long way to go.

    To all about the article:
    The train situation in OK has been something I’ve tried to follow since the start of the Heartland Flyer. I am still one who believes the first upgrade down out there should be the connection from OKC to Kansas to make the link to the Southwest Chief.

    But lets talk about the idea of HSR between Tulsa and OKC. I am one who generally feels the distance, in and of itself is too short for true HSR. The 200mph style at least as a start. What would be needed is a follow up with information like where would the tHSR line extend to next? A 3 city link or more.

    The fact that the state already owns the majority of the line should put OK far ahead of many other applications. If I were out there I’d be pushing for 110mph connections. I would want a system of express (meaning nonstop endpoint to endpoint) trains about every other hour or three and locals in between. Also, I’d be pushing for commuter rail for both cities as well.

    Complete systems are what we need. I of course did not address the local transit that every city should be building.

  3. […] Action Group warns of bike thefts (and shady bike sales) along the light rail line there; and Trains for America reports on high speed rail fever in […]

  4. […] Action Group warns of bike thefts (and shady bike sales) along the light rail line there; and Trains for America reports on high speed rail fever in […]

  5. […] Action Group warns of bike thefts (and shady bike sales) along the light rail line there; and Trains for America reports on high speed rail fever in […]

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  7. Tom Elmore says:

    Complete systems are what we need (presumably, he means “in Oklahoma…”)?

    ODOT just destroyed the obvious, ready-made basis for a complete metro/regional multimodal system — when it maliciously destroyed OKC Union Station’s rail yard at 300 SW 7th. Where were you when this was going on, Chris G? Several of us — not many, but a few — were quite effectively waging war on ODOT and BNSF to preclude this unnecessary destruction. But we sure didn’t stub any toes tripping over locals rushing to help.

    Suffice it to say that “200 mph service” is simply not practical between OKC and Tulsa. The cost of tickets and maintenance would actually probably make it counterproductive. But ODOT’s contractor buddies would be very happy to stuff the construction money in their pockets — and then use the outcome as an argument against future money spent on anything but highways (as ODOT has quite effectively done with THE HEARTLAND FLYER, which it crippled from the outset).

    An agency that was really interested in rail development would have gladly taken the 8-block-long, 12-track-wide OKC Union Station yard, with surrounding space obviously available for connecting bus and streetcars and quickly made it the best conventional rail hub in the Southwest. From there, “high speed rail” services might have been added incrementally if desired. The truth is — and ODOT knows it all too well — that high quality conventional trains operating at 80 mph would have revolutionized life, travel, the economy and essential connectivity in this state by striking the first blows against absolute domination by the automobile.

    This, ODOT simply could not abide. As any seasoned activist knows, the wise will judge politicians an bureaucrats not by what they say, but by what they do. Current leadership at ODOT has always done all it could to cripple rail passenger development.

    It might be of interest to any still following the fate of OKC Union Station that the US Court of Appeals, DC District has now called for oral arguments on an appeal of the STB decision that enabled the rail yard’s destruction at the hands of ODOT.

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