Yet another thoughtful “comment” from a earlier thread. Somewhere back there, I made the cast for fast conventional trains (110-115mph) from Oklahoma City to Tulsa. I sure wish somebody in the policy making arena would read it.
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.