Despite losing more than $43 per rider in 2012, Amtrak's Heartland Flyer route, which connects Oklahoma City to Fort Worth, Texas, fared well compared to corridors in other states, according to a report analyzing Amtrak service in the nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas issued Friday by The Brookings Institution.
The Oklahoma City metro area, which includes train stations in Oklahoma City, Norman and Purcell, carried 76,556 riders last year — 0.1 percent of Amtrak passengers nationwide, the report found.
Ridership on the 206-mile Heartland Flyer ranked 41st among Amtrak's routes. The train lost $2.7 million last year.
However, only four routes nationwide operated in the black, and most lost significantly more than the Heartland Flyer, the report shows. For instance, the 2,438-mile California Zephyr, which connects Chicago to San Francisco, cost $112.5 million to operate and lost $62.6 million last year.
Joseph Kane, policy research assistant at the Brookings Institution, said the report reflects a stark difference between Amtrak routes under 400 miles and longer routes like the California Zephyr.
“For short-distance routes, I think it's clear there is a demand for this service, and they are increasing ridership,” he said. Amtrak statistics show ridership in Oklahoma, which includes all stations, increased 4.1 percent in 2012 compared to 2011.
The Brookings report highlights Oklahoma's 50/50 split with Texas as an example of how states support certain routes. Only one other route has such an arrangement: the Hiawatha, which is shared 25/75 by Illinois and Wisconsin.
Fifteen states contributed to the funding of Amtrak routes between 2007-2011, the report found. Oklahoma ranked 13th by contributing $8.8 million.
State support will be critical when a new requirement for states to financially support short-distance corridors takes effect Oct. 1, he said, adding that the Heartland Flyer wouldn't exist without support from the state.
Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman, said because the Heartland Flyer will no longer be eligible for federal funding, the cost of operating the route will have to be absorbed by Oklahoma and Texas. Amtrak kicks in an average of 20 percent of the Heartland Flyer's operating cost each year.
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