Goal to add train routes sidetracked by more pressing priorities

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: March 17, 2013

THE long-held vision of restoring passenger rail service to more cities in Oklahoma seems far from reality. Will Oklahoma City and Tulsa ever be linked?

Perhaps a better question is this: Will Oklahoma City continue to be linked via Amtrak with Fort Worth? The answer turns on the willingness of a frugal Republican-controlled state government to subsidize a service that loses $43 per passenger before the train leaves the station.

While highway improvements are always front and center to motorists, developments in the rail industry are much less visible. But here are just some of the more significant developments in recent weeks:

Negotiations to acquire the Santa Fe train depot in Oklahoma City show that government officials and the structure's owners are far apart in what they think the property is worth.

Passengers taking the Heartland Flyer from here to Fort Worth are surprised to find that boarding the train doesn't involve a traditional depot experience. The Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority may use the power of eminent domain to acquire the property, a step toward returning the depot to a true rail-based transit hub.

The state is negotiating to sell the nearly 100 miles of train track between Oklahoma City and Sapulpa.

This is the line that would link Tulsa and the capital city if passenger rail is restored. The state bought the line to prevent its abandonment at a time when railroads were consolidating and curtailing freight services. Returning the trackage to private ownership wouldn't derail future passenger service — the state would require accommodation of such service as a condition of the sale — but upgrades needed for passenger trains would cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Heartland Flyer fares well in comparison with many Amtrak routes in terms of how much money it loses.

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