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KDOT authorizes study on expanded passenger rail

Post Date:01/25/2018 2:50 PM

A passenger rail link from Newton to Dallas-Fort Worth is one step closer to reality.

Kansas Department of Transportation officials announced Wednesday that they are requesting Amtrak move forward with a long-awaited revenue and ridership economic analysis, which will project numbers for the potential expansion of the rail line. 

The announcement, made at a special meeting hosted by Sen. Carolyn McGinn in Topeka, was several years in the making. The transportation departments of Oklahoma and Texas have been advocating for the study for several years, awaiting the green light from KDOT.

Amtrak will conduct the economic analysis with the support of the interstate coalition. The cost and timeline for the study are not yet known.

The results of the study will be used to gauge the feasibility of expanding the Heartland Flyer route from Oklahoma City north to Newton, where it would connect with the existing Southwest Chief line. Amtrak officials have said ridership on a connecting bus line established in 2016 has been promising.

Newton City Commissioner Barth Hague and Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell spoke at the meeting Wednesday, noting the positive impact this expanded rail service would have on the south-central Kansas economy, not only for tourism, but for business and industry, and for students at Wichita State, Oklahoma State and University of Oklahoma, who could use the service to access the newly instituted “in-state” tuition rates that are now reciprocated for students in both Kansas and Oklahoma.   

The expansion would make Newton the hub of two routes connecting major cities such as Chicago, Kansas City, Dallas and Los Angeles. Commissioner Hague noted it would be a huge boon for the local economy, bringing thousands of additional travelers through Newton’s downtown rail station each year.

Newton Mayor David Nygaard and Vice Mayor Kathy Valentine were also in attendance Wednesday, along with members of the House and Senate, officials from cities and counties along the current Amtrak line and the proposed expansion line, representatives from Union Pacific, BNSF, Amtrak, SMART Transit, and members of KDOT executive staff, including Secretary Richard Carlson.