Amtrak, Kansas leaders discuss extending route, connecting Dallas, OKC, Wichita
WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - It’s been more than 40 years since Wichita has had a passenger train service. That could change in the next few years. The proposal would extend the Heartland Flyer from its current Oklahoma City service into both Wichita and Newton, which would then connect passengers to the current Southwest Chief which services bigger cities, such as, Chicago, Kansas City, Albuquerque, Flagstaff and Los Angeles.
Extending the Heartland Flyer route into Kansas is still in early stages and depends on two main factors: whether the federal government will pitch in to help pay for it and how Amtrak invests with the host railroads in Oklahoma and Kansas.
Amtrak says the project could cost upward of $500 million from the federal government. Once finished, the project’s upkeep and operating costs would eventually fall onto the states. But Amtrak President Stephen Gardner says the economic impact would be significant.
“With an annual economic impact of more than $64 million and $1.9 billion in economic activity that would come from capital investments made to make this route possible,” he said.
The extension would include three round trips each day from Dallas to Oklahoma City to Newton, connecting the Southwest Chief line that runs from Chicago to L.A. The question comes: Will there be enough riders to make the investment worth it? Looking at the Southwest Chief route, Amtrak and local officials think there will be.
“The east-west interchange meets in Newton, so if you’re riding east or west, getting on or changing trains. In 2019, so, pre-pandemic numbers, the Southwest Chief served approximately 340,000 customers,” said Newton City Manager Kelly McElroy.
Amtrak is predicting anywhere from100,000 to 200,000 riders per year taking advantage of the Heartland Flyer route.
“Wichita and Las Vegas and Nashville are the only cities in the top 50 population centers not connected on a national route,” said Sedgwick County Commissioner Pete Meitzner.
There is no timeline for the project since it depends so heavily on getting that federal money. At this point, it’s too early to know details like ticket pricing and hours.
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