With boost from federal dollars, Kansas passenger train route set to become reality

photo by: Max McCoy / Kansas Reflector

The first passenger train arrived in Wichita in 1872; the last departed in 1979. This Santa Fe depot at the Old Cowtown Museum, in this 2017 file photo, was originally located at Anness, an unincorporated community in Sedgwick County.

TOPEKA — An influx of federal infrastructure dollars will allow Kansas cities to join a long-running train route between Oklahoma and Texas.

The concept of expanded passenger rail service in Wichita and Newton has been promoted by Kansas Department of Transportation officials and railway enthusiasts for years, but lost steam because of scarce funding and low numbers of passengers.

Federal emphasis on railway infrastructure improvements has given the project the necessary funding for expansion. Gov. Laura Kelly announced Friday that $500,000 in federal funding has been allocated for the state’s proposal to extend Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer.

“In south-central Kansas and across the state, the call to renew this passenger rail route has been strong, unified and clear,” said Kansas Department of Transportation secretary Calvin Reed. “The result is another step forward in bringing this vital passenger rail line back into service.”

The daily passenger train currently follows a 206-mile route, going from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to Fort Worth, Texas. Kansas is set to join this route under the state’s proposal, with new city stops added to the rail service in both Kansas and Oklahoma. New locations will include Edmond, Perry, Ponca City, Arkansas City, Wichita and Newton.

The plan will incorporate Wichita as a key stop along the route, a boost for the city that hasn’t had access to the national passenger rail network since 1979, when services were discontinued.

“The extension of the Heartland Flyer Passenger Rail would further connect Kansans to Oklahoma City and north-central Texas, unlocking business, educational, and cultural opportunities to Kansans and enabling our neighbors to the south to add to the Kansas economy,” Kelly said. “One of Kansas’ greatest assets is that we are in the center of the country, which is why my administration has supported rail projects like this to build on that strength.”

KDOT partnered with Texas and Oklahoma transportation departments to submit the proposal to the Federal Railroad Administration.

Funding comes from the Corridor Identification and Development Program, created as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The law authorized $108 billion to support federal infrastructure programs, including bolstering U.S. passenger railway infrastructure.

The proposal is one of several railways chosen for upgrades. Nationwide, 15 existing rail routes have been given funding for upgrades, along with seven new high-speed rail projects, and 47 new routes given federal dollars to add or extend services.

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican who voted against the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, praised the use of federal funding to extend the Heartland Flyer. He said the move would open up travel and economic opportunities for the state.

“Connecting communities across these three states will support new economic opportunities for businesses and provide a new means of travel along this busy route,” Moran said. “I am pleased to see the first step in this corridor progress and look forward to seeing the project benefit Kansas and the region and look forward to continued dialogue with local stakeholders.”

— Rachel Mipro reports for Kansas Reflector.


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