Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sen. Inhofe backs Heartland Flyer extension

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Oklahoma's senior U.S. Senator, James Inhofe, has endorsed a proposal to extend Amtrak's Heartland Flyer north of Oklahoma City into Kansas, to connect with Amtrak's long-distance Southwest Chief.

The Heartland Flyer currently links Oklahoma City with Fort Worth, Tex., with funding from Oklahoma and Texas aiding the service. The Heartland Flyer, which began service in 1999, is jointly sponsored by the Oklahoma and Texas transportation departments.

According to the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP), Inhofe, in a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, endorsed a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant application submitted by the City of Wichita to extend the Heartland Flyer to that city.

"Once fully operational, the Heartland Flyer extension will provide improved transportation access for businesses and citizens, create the prospect for economic development, and increase the productivity and dependability of freight movement across a significant region," Inhofe wrote. "For smaller communities that will have stops along the line, the extension of the Heartland Flyer would positively impact citizen mobility and connectivity to medical services, educational and employment opportunities, as well as connections to other transportation modes in Wichita and Oklahoma City. In recognition of these opportunities, the States of Oklahoma and Kansas are fully committed to the extension."

Inhofe's endorsement followed a direct request for same from NARP Council Member Gary Lanman, NARP noted.

The move runs somewhat counter to Inhofe's reputation as a perennial Amtrak critic. As recently as this year, Sen. Inhofe, while offering support for a renewed federal transportation funding program, observed, "Among my initial concerns is the inclusion of Amtrak and the TIGER grant program into the Highway Trust Fund that will further diminish scarce transportation dollars without paying a single cent into the program."

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation, along with the Federal Railroad Administration, also is evaluating a Tulsa-Oklahoma City Passenger Rail Corridor Investment Plan to evaluate passenger rail service linking those two cities.