Infrastructure bill elevates Amtrak discussion in Wichita

Infrastructure bill could bring passenger rail service to Wichita
Published: Nov. 8, 2021 at 4:26 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - The passage of the federal infrastructure bill is providing some positive signals that passenger rail will once again come through Wichita.

This summer, Amtrak announced an extension of the Heartland Flyer route between Newton and Oklahoma City. That extension would bring passenger rail service to Wichita for the first time since 1979. Local elected officials say this is a key transportation property for Wichita and south-central Kansas.

In Washington, D.C., the recently passed, $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill is waiting on the president’s signature, but among the funding is $66 billion to railroads and about $40 billion to public transportation.

As part of a 15-year plan, Amtrak earlier this year announced plans to add service to 160 communities. Even with passage of the infrastructure bill, the Northern Flyer Alliance, advocating for the Heartland Flyer Extension through Wichita, says funding won’t be immediately available to Amtrak for these projects.

With how the bill is written, states are required to submit proposals to the Federal Railroad Administration. That will require some level of matching funds from the state. Sedgwick County Commissioner Pete Meitzner has been pushing for this project, getting passenger rail service back to Wichita, for years.

“They will choose those projects that they have knowledge of or that that state has made a great case for or that they have a working, ongoing relationship with,” said Deborah Fischer Stout with the Northern Flyer Alliance.

Meitzner said, “this will continue to be a great step forward for our state.”

“Now we’re going to be, potentially, I think, we’re going to be right in the middle of the transportation connectivity as far as passenger rail,” he said.

Meitzner and others are working to make sure the Heartland Flyer project has an elective profile so it can be among the first projects approved.

“This is a large step forward for our efforts,” he said.

Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple said the visibility of the Heartland Flyer project will be key to getting prioritization from the FRA.

“One of the things that is just incredibly bipartisan and intergovernmental when you talk about what the city wants, what the county wants and also what legislators want, is Amtrak to come back to Wichita,” he said.

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