Amtrak may leave Oklahoma without funding, two lawmakers say

Sunday, April 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Passenger train travel in Oklahoma is headed for derailment unless the state finds a way to supplement federal funding, two legislators said.

Amtrak's Heartland Flyer began running daily between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, Texas, in June 1999. Before that, Oklahoma had not had passenger rail service for 20 years.

State Sen. Dave Herbert has been trying for the last few years to find supplemental funding for the service. He's filed legislation for a statewide vote on a 1-cent gasoline tax to fund passenger train operation in Oklahoma. The tax would last 10 years.

His bill keeps stalling in the House of Representatives.

Herbert's bill, co-authored by Rep. Bill Nations, would generate $18 million per year. Herbert, D-Midwest City, said the federal government has millions of dollars available to states that want to improve railroad service. To get in on the funds, states must provide matching money.

``If this bill or some bill does not make it, passenger rail service in Oklahoma doesn't have any future,'' said Nations, D-Norman.

Herbert said the Heartland Flyer will leave Oklahoma if the state doesn't find funds.

The federal Transportation Department designated several rail corridors, including the Oklahoma City-Fort Worth route, for high-speed train service last October. Federal money is available for the corridors.

Almost 118,000 people have used the Heartland Flyer since in opened two years ago. Last month, 6,779 people rode the train, a slight decrease compared to the same time last year.

Oklahoma has a three-year contract with Amtrak. The state paid Amtrak $5.4 million the first year. It will pay $5.6 million the second year and $6 million the third year, said John Dougherty, branch manager for the state railroads program division of the Oklahoma Transportation Department.

The state earned $1 million for the train's operation the first year, thanks to ticket sales and snack car sales. State earnings likely will be $1.5 million by the end of the second year.