The Kansas Department of Transportation and Amtrak officials held an open house Tuesday to discuss four options for expanding passenger rail service.
The plans come as a result of their joint Feasibility Study of Expanded Passenger Service in Kansas. The plans would increase the number of destinations in and around Kansas, including stops in Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. The proposed expansion would mean more frequent Amtrak stops in Lawrence.
The Kansas Department of Transportation is considering four options for extending Amtrak passenger-rail service in Kansas. Details of each:
- Extend the Heartland Flyer from Oklahoma City to Newton, Kan., with a nighttime connection to the Southwest Chief that already runs through Lawrence. Ridership: 92,500 per year. Costs: $155.8 million to establish, $3.2 million annual subsidy.
- Extend the Heartland Flyer from Oklahoma City to Kansas City, Mo., to run at night through Lawrence. Ridership: 118,200 per year. Costs: $317 million to establish, $5.2 million annual subsidy.
- Establish new service from Forth Worth, Texas, to Kansas City, Mo., including daytime service through Lawrence. Ridership: 174,000 per year. Costs: $479.1 million to establish, $8.1 million annual subsidy.
- Establish new service from Oklahoma City to Kansas City, Mo., including daytime service through Lawrence. Ridership: 65,900 per year. Costs: $309.1 million to establish, $6.4 million annual subsidy.
“The ideal would be to have two trains running,” said Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, “one that connects with the Southwest Chief and one that was a daylight train between Kansas City and Fort Worth (Texas).” The Southwest Chief runs from Chicago to Los Angeles, with daily stops in Lawrence.
The meeting was held at the Union Pacific Depot and those in attendance watched a video presentation outlining the logistics of each plan and, more importantly, the cost.
“There’s a lot of benefits and a lot of drawbacks that you have to look at,” said Chris Herrick, director of planning and development for KDOT.
The plans range in cost from $100 million to
$400 million. While Kansas would split the costs with Texas and Oklahoma, it would be asked to pay for a majority of the funding.
“Kansas would pay for a majority of the cost of the service because we’re the ones that initiated the study,” Herrick said.
Amtrak media relations manager Marc Magliari understands that the cost to the taxpayer is a major issue. “We want these trains to run well,” he said. “We want these trains to run on time. And there’s a price tag that comes with that.”
But some residents think the service is worth paying for with the potential for higher fuel costs on the horizon. “Fuel is going to be increasingly difficult to come by,” said Dennis Domer, a member of Depot Redux, a local group that advocates for rail travel.
Domer said he thinks expanding rail service is good preparation for the future. “We need alternate sources for lots of people who can’t afford gasoline, and we need to be ready for that,” he said.
KDOT is working with departments of transportation in Oklahoma, Texas and Missouri and hopes to make a decision on a final plan by the end of the summer. Each state’s legislature would then decide whether to fund the proposed expansion. If approved, the final plan would go to the Kansas Legislature in 2012.
Until then, Herrick and other proponents of the plans will travel throughout the proposed “destination corridor” to receive input from the communities that will be affected by the expansion.
“When it’s all said and done,” Herrick said, “we’ll have to ask, ‘is it a good expenditure of taxpayer dollars?’”