What happened to passenger rail service between Tulsa and OKC?

Posted at 6:51 PM, Jul 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-26 20:58:25-04

TULSA -- Three years ago when the Stillwater Central (WATCO Companies) bought the Sooner Sub from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, there was a promise of passenger rail. The train route was called the Eastern Flyer to run passenger service from Tulsa to Oklahoma City.

2 Works For You took the Heartland Flyer from Norman to Fort Worth, Texas.

The Heartland Flyer is the only passenger rail service operating Oklahoma.

Passengers like Greg Ellson were lined up on the platform in Norman waiting to take the AmTrak train back home to Texas.

“It's just a pretty cheap and easy way of getting around. It's a lot more relaxing than driving," said Ellson.

“It's just a more pleasant trip overall.”

The Heartland Flyer takes about four and a half hours to get into Downtown Fort Worth.

The train can max out at 80 miles-per-hour with stops in Purcell, Pauls Valley, Ardmore and Gainesville.

“It's been great. There's plenty of leg room, WiFi and power on the train we can work and just watch movies, do whatever," said Ellson.

We took the trip on the Heartland Flyer with passenger rail advocate Evan Stair and State Representative Forrest Bennett.

“What we're seeing though is a generation of millennials who, they don't want to drive anymore, they want to have their cell phones out, they want to have their laptops out rather than holding a steering wheel between Tulsa and Oklahoma City," said Stair.

One day, this could be what a trip between Tulsa and Oklahoma City could look like.

Advocates hope that one day the Eastern Flyer could run at speeds up to 110 miles-per-hour.

“That's faster than the turnpike," said Stair.




Advocates hope to get the trains to stop right in the heart of Tulsa's and Oklahoma City's downtowns.

Tulsa has set aside Vision money to create an transit hub downtown.

Renderings available during Vision proposal meetings envision a intermodal hub at the Center of the Universe.

“All we need is the City of Tulsa and the City of Oklahoma City to get together, work with ODOT, work with the Stillwater Central Railroad and make this happen," said Stair.

According to the ODOT contract when it sold a section of the rail called the Sooner Sub to Stillwater Central Railroad, the railroad company would be obligated to run a passenger railroad pilot program between the cities.

“My concern is the longer we wait, the more expensive it will be," Rep. Forest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City.

Representative Forrest Bennett has the proposed Tulsa passenger rail service coming into his district.

“I'd love to see it happen. My brother lives in Tulsa," said Bennett.

Tulsa Representative Monroe Nichols received word hearings will be held this fall on the status of the Eastern Flyer passenger rail project.

“There are all these cities and hubs that have bought in to passenger rail and so it's not kind of something that's a new idea it's something almost now that's becoming one of the base things you have to have if you're going to have a vibrant metropolitan area," said Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa.

Representative Bennett said the Eastern Flyer is about more than just people riding the train for a trip to a Thunder game.

“I think it would connect Oklahoma and not only connect Tulsa and Oklahoma City, but it would connect the cities in between," said Bennett.

Passenger rail advocates said if the Eastern Flyer started service right now, the train could only run 60-miles-per-hour, but with federal grants and public funding, the track upgrades could beat turnpike speeds.

After a day trip to Texas, we saw the demand passenger rail has in Oklahoma.

Advocates said more than 60,000 passengers take the Heartland Flyer each year.

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