Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

More on Oklahoma HSR

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.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

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