OKC Mayor, Other Leaders Push For Rail Service To Kansas

Sunday, May 12th 2013, 10:36 pm
By: News 9

The talk of passenger rails is starting to gain traction in Oklahoma. Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and the mayors of Wichita and Kansas City have given their stamp of approval to a plan connecting the cities.

The rail project has been talked about for years, and rail supporters are hoping it will pick up speed.

“The problem right now with Amtrak is that there's just too little of it," said Stephen Levine, co-founder of the Oklahoma Rail Passenger Association.

“There's obviously an interest, and this isn't just from people who just like to ride the trains for the sake of riding trains. There’s a genuine interest.”

Traveling by train from Oklahoma is very limited. Passengers have to stop in Texas first to travel to any other state on the Amtrak system, but a rail line from Oklahoma City to Wichita or Kansas City could change all that.

"Rather than having to clutch a steering wheel for 200 miles, you can sit back in an arm chair and just enjoy the scenery," Levine said. “You don’t have to ride the cramped quarters of the bus. You got plenty of leg room.”

Levine thinks closing the big service gap between Oklahoma City and Wichita would revive passenger rail travel, but it is going to take a lot of support from the government and the public to make the train line possible.

The rail is already there and would require some additional contraction. But unless Oklahoma and Kansas legislators sign off on the project, it remains at a halt.

"It always boils down to funding," Levine says.

The expanded rail line could cost around $90 million. Wichita Vice Mayor Pete Meitzner says Kansas will contribute $3 million for the city to pursue federal funding for the project, but that’s only if Oklahoma provides $2.3 million.

Evan Stair of the Passenger Rail Oklahoma says the project can only move forward if the Department of Transportation gets behind it. And with a train from Oklahoma City to Tulsa still in the works, a train to Kansas has not been a priority.

Some Oklahoma residents think the train would be a great idea, especially, with rising gas prices.

"Anything that will help with having alternative transportation for people would be very good," Cara Jarlsberg of Oklahoma City said.

"I believe it will help our metro area grow a lot bigger, not just us fans but for our surrounding states,” said Natalie Rodriguez, an Oklahoma City resident. “So I think it will work out not just for us but even for Kansas,"