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Oklahoma waits for feedback on request for rail funds

Oklahoma waits for feedback on request for rail funds

Published: July 18, 2009

Oklahoma could be included in a high-speed rail corridor under a plan to allocate about $8 billion in federal funds to develop a passenger rail network.

Officials with the state Transportation Department have submitted a preliminary application for funds to make rail lines from Tulsa to the Texas state line part of a national high-speed rail corridor under the American Recovery and Rehabilitation Act. The plan would call for trains to travel between Tulsa and Oklahoma City reaching speeds as high as 150 mph. The average speed would be 110 mph.

The lines that connect the Heartland Flyer from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth, Texas, would average more than 60 mph in Oklahoma, transportation officials said.

The two rail lines would be part of the south central high-speed rail corridor. The corridor would run from Tulsa south to San Antonio with an eastern spur from Forth Worth, Texas, to Little Rock, Ark., according to plans from the Federal Railroad Administration.

The first round of funding requests and letters of intent were submitted Friday. The Transportation Department is waiting for feedback on its request, said Terri Angier, ODOT spokeswoman. If the preliminary request is approved, the department would have until Aug. 24 to apply for funding.

If federal funds were approved for a high-speed rail project in Oklahoma, the route between Tulsa and Oklahoma City would be a priority, Angier said. The state already owns a portion of that route. Upgrading the tracks for high-speed rail use could cost about $2 billion.

"It would be extremely ambitious, but it’s very important to us to connect the two metropolitan cities in Oklahoma,” Angier said.

If Oklahoma were to receive stimulus funds for a high speed rail project, construction could begin as early as next year and take at least six years to complete.

The Transportation Department already helps fund the Heartland Flyer, passenger rail service operated by Amtrak. Oklahoma and Texas each pay a $2 million annual subsidy for the train. Oklahoma could be an attractive state for rail funding because the department already has shown its interest in funding rail projects and owns about 20 percent of the rail lines in the state, Angier said.

"It certainly shows the activity in the state and that we’re going in the right direction,” she said.

The department began purchasing rail lines across the state in the 1980s and owns about 862 miles of track.

Some of the lines are leased by short line operators who may use the track to move freight or grain between cities.

"We are one of the most progressive states in this area,” Angier said. "When rail companies started selling off lines they didn’t need anymore, ODOT moved very quickly to acquire many miles of track.”

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