Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Oklahoma and true HSR

You need to visit YouTube and search “high speed rail” and restrict the search to “this week.” There is a group of lengthy videos bursting with important information on the Heartland Flyer route and regional HSR.

Most important, Oklahoma is not looking at bringing the state owned railroad between OKC and Tulsa to “high performance” standards. Instead, the route would be the Turner Turnpike. Obviously the state also owns this corridor and it is straight. Oklahoma is talking about true European-style HSR, which seems like corporate welfare for consultants. In other words, I am skeptical.

It may be that constructing a double track high performance line on the turnpike right-of-way is the best most feasible alternative. I don’t see Oklahoma spending $2 billion for high speed rail when the cities seem to have little commitment to transit. Just an opinion.

The good news here is the idea to double track the BNSF from OKC to Fort Worth. This is another excellent corridor and the light rail lines on the south end will nicely support the improved service.

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

12 Responses

  1. Matt Dowty says:

    Oklahoma City will vote on an urban development plan that has a street car line and POTENTIALLY an intermodal hub and commuter rail on December 8th.

  2. […] Oklahoma and true HSR « Trains For America […]

  3. Cal says:

    California will have the only real HSR system..nothing in OK will even come close and the population/mindset would never make it work

  4. MadPark says:

    Not to mention the fact that to date OK has invested only sparingly on passenger rail programs. Those states like WA, CA, NC, IL and others which have been spending to improve rail transport in their states for a decade or more ought to be at the front of the line when those US$8B are doled out.

  5. Peter Laws says:

    A couple things.

    First, this is an ODOT plan, not an Oklahoma Turnpike Authority plan, so the line will be built north of the Turner Turnpike RoW, not in it or on it or under it or over it (at least according to preliminary plans!).

    Second, ODOT has, to its credit, contracted for train service for 10 years now (with Amtrak providing the service). In the past couple years, TxDOT has also contributed to the train’s operation (though I wish they’d speed up their section of the BNSF line, a lot of which is limited to 55 mph!)

    This is, I will point out, the ONLY service in the state, unlike the other states mentioned which had lots of service before they started their service. Or like NY that has a ton of in-state service that they pay $0 for (Empire Service).

    The “other” part of the plan, the part that I suspect will actually get funded, includes extension of a 2nd Main Track as far as Norman (setting the stage for commuter service?) and track improvements south of there, with the ultimate goal of 90-mph service on the Oklahoma section of the line. No expectation of electrification or 150-mph service as planned for OKC-TUL.

  6. Tom Elmore says:

    Oklahoma Citians have a development plan for streetcars and a rail hub? And 10 years of a crippled, truncated, reverse-scheduled, welfare-case HEARTLAND FLYER is to “ODOT’s credit?”

    In fact, Oklahoma government, puppeteered by the oil, highway and automobile lobbies, just mindlessly destroyed the last, grand, capitol-city rail passenger center in the West remaining unused with all its original train-handling space intact.

    There was no need for this — but what passes for leadership here insisted, anyway — while certain of the rah-rah railfan section schmoozed and happy talked. After all, OKC Union Station’s 8-block-long, 12-track-wide rail yard was “in the wrong place,” you know…just like “Oklahoma Station,” out on the windswept prairie in 1888 was “in the wrong place.” Just like the transcontinental railway — built into the empty wilderness was “in the wrong place.”)…and despite what somebody claims somebody else said, “they’re not gonna destroy the terminal building itself.” No. It’ll remain, for, maybe, bicycle rental and a hot dog stand or other similarly strategic functions.

    As part of the vandalism of the OKC Union Station rail yard, Oklahoma government just maliciously destroyed two beautiful, historic, functionally perfect and virtually maintenance-free arterial street underpasses beneath east-west railway mainlines — in favor of a couple of the most dangerous at-grade crossings anywhere. This while the state Corporation Commission, charged with public safety at highway/rail grade crossings, laughably “punted.”

    The destruction of each of these National-Historic-Register-eligible structures required the complete, Al-Capp-comic-strip collapse of every bureaucracy and authority charged with protecting the people’s interests. And still, the same rah-rah railfans stand there grinning at us every time some debauched state official says “choo-choo” like “Alfred-E.-Neumann-after-getting-his-head-slammed-in-a-car-door…,” apparently hoping for just one more pat on the head from some dissembling, pimped-up Oklahoma politician.

    “Five miles of streetcar line,” they assure us. Oh yes. From the “Gaylord Pickens Museum to the state capitol,” maybe, with nowhere else to go because the historic hub is gone. Five miles of streetcar line plainly set up, if ever actually built, to be an argument against more rail development — just as ODOT has used THE HEARTLAND FLYER.

    OKC-to-Tulsa HSR “an ODOT — and not Turnpike Authority plan?” Although laughable highway-lobby-sock-puppet Gary Ridley, the “P.E. without a dee-gree” serves as director of both ODOT and the Turnpike Authority?

    “It is not the function of our government to keep the citizen from falling into error,” observed Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson. “It is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error.”

    But what happens when citizens become facilitators of and apologists for government error?

    “Stand for something — or you’ll fall for anything,” goes the old saying.

    Obviously, manifestly so.

  7. Peter Laws says:

    The “maintenance-free” underpasses next to Union Station were 80 years old. I’m confident that they were constructed to a higher standard than similar structures built today. However, the fact remains that they were 80 years old. To call them maintenance-free is disingenuous at best.

    As to the new grade-crossings … how many trains per day is the Union Pacific running over this line? Two? Four? There are many other grade crossings in OKC and surrounding towns that have 40-50 trains per day that are in much more desperate need of grade separation.

    The station building remains and will, presumably, remain as the head offices of COTPA. Conversion to a bicycle-rental facility would be a waste of someone’s money since there are not many folks in that neighborhood that are in need of bicycle rental (or of many other services). While many folks in the area might like a tasty hot dog, there just aren’t a lot of folks there. Walk-up traffic, something that food cart vendors rely on, would be very low at best.

    The “battle” for Union Station was lost some time ago. Continuing to harp on it supports only antacid makers.

    Nonetheless, if area around the station (6-10 blocks south of the CBD) ever does develop and if rail-based transit to the west is ever restarted, then there will be a fine, two-track station ready for use.

    Over the better part of the year that has passed since the beginning of this thread, TxDOT has applied for and received ARRA money to speed up their section of the Heartland Flyer route to allow more 79-mph running. Their estimate is that this will shave another 15 minutes off the schedule. That’s the cheapest 15 minutes that will ever be shaved from the schedule.

  8. Tom Elmore says:

    The United States Court of Appeals, DC District, has called for oral arguments September 20, 2010 in the matter of an appeal of the STB decision that cleared the way for the destruction of the former Frisco, “Chickasha Subdivision,” rail line linking OKC Union Station to the OKC Stockyards, Will Rogers Airport and other strategic south central and soutwestern Oklahoma locations.

    This is the sort of thing that happens when mere citizens demand accountability from government, doggedly pursuing the job of American citizenship succinctly explained by Justice Robert H. Jackson.

  9. Evan Stair says:

    There is nothing wrong with ODOT’s application for high speed rail between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. No one would deny the trains would be used. The real issue is that this represents ODOT’s only plan and it is entirely intrastate.

    ODOT was shut out entirely in 2009 with just one application for $2 billion of a national $8 billion program. ODOT projected $22 million annually in operating costs when the state legislature has been reluctant to even fund the $2.3 million required to keep the Heartland Flyer operating. The FRA also reviewed the state’s commitment to passenger rail and had to see the ridiculously small, less that 0.2% of the state’s transportation budget, going to passenger rail. The sheer request size ensured federal rejection. Was this ODOT’s plan all along?

    James McCommons mentions in his new book “Waiting on a Train” that state DOTs are reluctant, even in progressive states, to divert funding away from bloated highway programs. The Heartland Flyer will always represent transportation-novelty until a northern connection with the national passenger rail system is achieved.

    Some states, including neighboring Kansas and Texas, issued dozens of applications to the Federal Railroad Administration last summer with a handful approved. Texas received $4 million to upgrade rails between the Red River and Fort Worth to 79m.p.h.. Trinity Railway Expressed received $7 million to double track all the way between Fort Worth and Dallas. Kansas received $250,000 to begin a service development plan between Kansas City – Wichita – Oklahoma City – Fort Worth to accompany its Amtrak produced feasibility study along the same corridor.

    ODOT must issue multiple plans if they are to garner federal capital funding. ODOT engineers estimated a $110 million cost in 2008 to bring the existing Oklahoma City – Tulsa infrastructure up to 79m.p.h. standards. The state owns approximately 100 of these miles between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The final 16 are owned by the BNSF Railway. The existing route was ignored because it operates through hilly countryside.

    ODOT must consider the Turner Turnpike High Speed Rail route a 20 to 40 year goal. Infrastructure improvement will be incremental. The US interstate highway system was not built overnight. ODOT should issue more than one application next time. Look at other promising routes such as Kansas City – Wichita – Oklahoma City – Fort Worth, Kansas City – Dallas through Tulsa. It is good that ODOT has reached out to Texas; however, Missouri and Kansas must play a role in INTERstate passenger rail transit.

    As Congress continues to shirk its interstate commerce responsibilities states will continue to be called to take up the slack. Oklahoma’s next governor must show vision for 21st Century transportation and ignore the highway and trucking lobbies that compete annually for the $1.5 billion ODOT budget. The next governor must address the crumbling state highway and bridge system with innovate solutions such as passenger rail. Our present state highway system is overbuilt and unsustainable. Rail technology is superior, especially in hauling freight. States in the region beyond just Texas must work toward a regional rail plan that takes some of the load off of our highway systems. This makes fiscal common sense, something Oklahoma has lacked for the last 30 years.

  10. Tom Elmore says:

    Surely it is plain even to indifferent observers that “true High Speed Rail” depends on an undergirding network of conventional rail passenger services for success — and that people who would find High Speed trains cost prohibitive would regularly use fast conventional trains.

    The concern,then, that ODOT’s alleged plan for a hundred miles of “true, European style HSR” between OKC and Tulsa is mainly “corporate welfare for consultants” is entirely reasonable and well-founded.

    My experience with the McCaleb/Keating/Ridley/Streb cabal that has now controlled the agency for nearly 16 years is that they’re as big on seemingly endless corporate welfare for their cronies as they are for carefully, calculatedly darkening the public’s way in a manner that can only be accurately described as “well rehearsed.”

    This, of course, is open dereliction of the public trust.

    No doubt in my mind that last fall’s emphasis on “High Speed Rail,” timed, as it was, to obscure ODOT’s destruction of the Union Station rail yard, was nothing but the sort of near-comic misdirection play about which they’d all be guffawing and slapping their knees behind closed doors.

    An agency that was really interested in rail passenger development would have jealously guarded the elegant capital-city hub at OKC Union Station, and would undoubtedly long-since have had regular commuter train service in operation at least between OKC and Tulsa together with a Kansas City-to-Ft. Worth HEARTLAND FLYER.

    To the contrary, ODOT has manifestly made the least of every absolutely inescapable opportunity for rail development and completely undermined and/or evaded all other such opportunities.

    The destruction of the Union Station yard and related tunnel network and underpasses can only be accurately described as a bold crime against the national interest, and against all our children and grandchildren. The idea that some would now be minimizing the harm done and urging others to “forget it,” is a tribute only to the lack of understanding and involvement in issues key to cost- and time-effective creation of a railway network for the state.

    I’ve long warned ODOT that the fastest way they might prove the value of the facility is to destroy it — and that when the inevitable weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth commenced in the aftermath of that destruction, that I could be counted on to remember their names. I hope they enjoy the sound of those names — because, Lord help me, they’re going to be hearing them a lot.

  11. B. Geary says:

    What oklahoma needs is PASSENGER TRAIN SERVICE. We don’t need more corporate welfare. HSR is expensive to install, expensive to operate, expensive to ride. HSR should not even be a consideration in this economy, and should never be given priority over transportation ordinary people can afford.

    We need trains for PEOPLE. An OKC-Tulsa route is greatly needed. Get on with it! Why not use existing track?

    The Turner turnpike auto traffic is formidable. There are a LOT of us who would like an alternative!

  12. darla sparks says:

    The train debates mirror perfectly why Oklahoma is at the bottom of every known ruler for judging progressive leadership thus keeping us #50 for almost everything! When will our citizens start traveling to the other 49 and discovering the joy of real transportation options with reasonable rates? Never???? When the wealthy in this state feed the rest of us garbage and pass it off as “news”…..and keep telling us how grand our state is….while they continue to bash anything that would bring up the average working family’s wages….there will never be transportation that the lowly citizen can afford to travel on and learn the truths of the superiority afforded other states’ citizens in wages, transportation systems,educational support, etc.

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