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Federal rail official Karen Rae says funding to help rail network in Oklahoma

Federal rail official Karen Rae says funding to help rail network in Oklahoma





Published: September 22, 2009

Oklahoma officials should work together to capitalize on funding for passenger rail and rail safety improvements, a top federal rail official told state transportation officials Monday.

Karen Rae, deputy administrator for the Federal Rail Administration, stressed the need for states to work together to improve the nation’s passenger rail network when she spoke at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials conference in downtown Oklahoma City. States are vying for a portion of $8 billion set aside by Congress for improvements to rail safety and passenger rail service.

"All eyes are upon us,” Rae said. "There is great excitement about rail. We haven’t had a president since Lincoln show an interest in rail. With the Obama Administration we can expect to see a rebalancing of needs and priorities.”

State transportation officials from all 50 states and U.S. territories are in Oklahoma City this week as part of the conference.

Oklahoma hopes to secure about $2 billion to build a passenger rail corridor system between Oklahoma City and Tulsa and improve the Heartland Flyer’s service between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, Texas.

Oklahoma has until Oct. 2 to apply for funding. Officials with the Federal Rail Administration are expected to make a decision on which projects get funding by early next year, Rae said.

"We’re really seeing a sea change,” she said. "It took 50 years to build our highway system, and that’s something we take for granted today. Rail is becoming an equal player. This is the beginning of a very wonderful program.”

Rae said much of the $8 billion in funding will go toward developing rail networks and connecting large regions.

Oklahoma stands to benefit from the regional approach, said Gary Ridley, state Transportation Department director.

"Oklahoma is the hub of America,” he said. "If anything happens it will come through here.”

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