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Passenger Rail Kansas is a grass roots advocacy organization, dedicated to the preservation and expansion of passenger rail service in Kansas and the surrounding region. 

Thruway Bus – Review
June 14, 2016

       About the Bus. A new Thruway Bus connects the Southwest Chief, Wichita, and Heartland Flyer routes. The route operates between Newton and Oklahoma City with one intermediate stop in Wichita. We tried the new service as a part of a Las Vegas, New Mexico round trip last weekend.

       Test Run. We departed Friday evening on the Heartland Flyer, arriving six minutes late into Oklahoma City at 9:29 PM. The bus had not arrived. This was a bit disappointing as we were ready to get into an air-conditioned space due to the muggy evening. Passengers could wait in the under-track concourse without air conditioning or wait outside in the little breeze that was available.

       To Newton. The Village Tours charter bus arrived next to the sidewalk at 100 SE EK Gaylord at 10:30 PM. We were glad to get out of the heat. We left on-time at 10:40 PM and were on-time to catch a 25 minute late train 3, the Southwest Chief at 3:10 AM. We arrived in Las Vegas, New Mexico at 12:38 PM, 30 minutes late. We were just enough late to catch lunch on the train (included with a sleeping accommodation).

       To Oklahoma City. The return trip was uneventful. Train 4, the Southwest Chief was 19 minutes late into Las Vegas at 3:22 PM and 25 minutes late into Newton at 3:20 AM. You must check in with the Amtrak agent when you arrive. They want to ensure you make your bus connection. We boarded the bus for a 4:00 AM on-time departure. Everything worked smoothly from that point. The bus arrived with about an hour to spare for the on-time departure of the Heartland Flyer. Again, you can wait inside the Oklahoma City Santa Fe depot concourse or outside.

       What If? Missed Connections. I asked the Village Tours driver what happens if a bus connection is missed due to a late train. This almost happened Sunday night when the Heartland Flyer arrived in Oklahoma City at 11:17 PM, 1 hour and 54 minutes late. As it turns out this is handled on a case-by-case basis. The bus can wait an additional 30 minutes. Connecting train passengers on a very late train will likely be placed on a Greyhound bus. For example, a late Southwest Chief arrival that misses the 4:30 am bus departure will be placed on Greyhound. Still, the bus can wait longer if there are no passengers connecting with the Heartland Flyer. There are too many scenarios to list here.

       Bus Amenities. Here is a rundown of the 54 seat bus. The bus is positioned in Oklahoma City for the beginning of its round trip. WiFi is available. Leg room is somewhere between coach in a commercial airliner and an Amtrak coach. I am 6’0” so I could have used a bit more but the reclining seat helps. The temperature was nice and cool. If you are cold natured bring a blanket. A pillow is essential because the headrest is not quite enough. Bring something to drink in the event you get thirsty. Baggage is handled on the bus.

       Waiting Area. If the heat is oppressive in Oklahoma City, walk over to the hotel catty-corner to station and wait in the lobby. I will do this next time if I cannot find a breeze. Hopefully, I do not get chased off. I am also going to see if the city will provide some fans at the waiting area until the Santa Fe depot project is complete.

       Patronage. Twelve passengers were on our trip Friday to Newton and eight for the return Monday. Greater than anticipated ridership has surprised Amtrak and the carrier. Passenger Rail Kansas could have told them a long time ago, we need more than a bus, a train would make things so much better.

April 29, 2016: Know Your Audience: Be Smarter Than the Average Bear

Everyone knows the first rule of public speaking, “Know your audience.” We say, “Know what makes your audience tick!”

As fiscal stewards, legislators will only want to discuss the economic impact of passenger rail. Avoid history, nostalgia, and ‘kids need a train ride’ discussions, unless you tie the associated tourism revenues garnered from the train. Understand, we were corrected many years ago. The color of tourism money is still green.

This is why we pound the Texas Transportation Institute study, Measuring the Benefits of Intercity Passenger Rail: A Study of the Heartland Flyer Corridor, so hard. To refresh, Heartland Flyer passengers spent $17 million in Heartland Flyer communities during FY-2015 of which $1.3 was collected in local sales taxes. This is derived from a 2009 onboard TTI survey.

Be smarter than the average bear!

April 14, 2016: Amtrak OKC-Wichita-Newton Thruway Begins April 18

Click on the image to make reservations or call 1-800-USA-RAIL if you have difficulty

Connections between the Southwest Chief and Heartland Flyer will be available beginning the morning of Monday April 18, 2016. A Thruway bus will begin operating between Oklahoma City and Newton, Kansas on that date with an intermediate stop in Wichita. This closes a gap between Oklahoma City and the Southwest Chief route. It is not what Passenger Rail Kansas and Passenger Rail Oklahoma prefer but it is a start.

If you have problems making a reservation, please contact Amtrak at 1-800-USA-RAIL aka. 1-800-872-7245. Keep writing to your Kansas legislators to convert this bus to a train.

April 10, 2016: Vista Dome on Southwest Chief July 6-July 8

Some of our members occasionally like to take an upscale trip on the Southwest Chief. This involves booking space on a private rail car. On July 6, 2016 Train 4 (eastbound) will depart Los Angeles Union Station with the Silver Solarium , a former Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Vista-Dome, Observation, Sleeper-Lounge. As of this date a second car, the Silver Rapids, another sleeper will be added if five more commit to booking this trip.

This is a rare occasion. You will get about as close to reliving a Super Chief style journey as possible. The Super Chief was a Los Angeles-Chicago passenger train that operated over essentially the same route as Amtrak's Southwest Chief. The Super Chief was an all Pullman Santa Fe Railway sleeping car train. It disappeared in 1974 when Amtrak's service standards dropped dramatically.

We have developed a list of the top five reasons to book this trip as follows:

      1. It is the Southwest Chief.
      2. It is a Vista Dome.
      3. Semaphores in New Mexico are endangered.
      4. The "clickety-clack" sound of jointed rail is rapidly being replaced by welded rail.
      5. YOU need a break from the routine.

Book today at California Zephyr Railcar Charters. Click on the image above.

April 3, 2016: What you need to know about the Heartland Flyer extension

Following four years of hard work, Kansas advocacy leaders joined Governor Parkinson as he signed The Kansas Passenger Rail Development Act (SB409) in 2010. Newbie advocates believed Heartland Flyer expansion was just around the corner. Longer term advocates knew better.

You see, SB409 was an unfunded mandate. Squeezing any funding out of the Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas legislatures would require even more Herculean feats than passing this shell program. In their excitement, newbie advocates brushed off this uncomfortable reality. It ended their effectiveness as advocates.

Then two additional events brought the greater multi-state effort to a close.

1. Amtrak and the BNSF Railway threw cold water on the project. Their 2010 study showed a $155 million capital requirement for a Heartland Flyer expansion and an even more outrageous $479 million figure to begin a new service between Kansas City-Wichita-Oklahoma City-Fort Worth.

2. The Brownback administration created an untenable and hostile political environment. Expansion is less likely now than at any time since the Heartland Flyer began polishing the rails between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth.

Six years have passed since the multi-state effort collapsed. This is why we are still here, reborn in 2010. We have the patience. We have the skills. We have the experience to bring this initiative back to life once the political climate changes and the naysayers have left their governing/civic positions, and they will eventually be replaced. We will be ready.

The biggest challenge will be in reviving the scorched earth of corridor communities caused by newbie neglect. However, like a late winter Flint Hills firestorm, we anticipate a greener field will emerge. Once the ashes are swept away, we will be ready. Stand by and don't lose faith.


For More information about Passenger Rail Oklahoma
contact Evan Stair at SFRR@aol.com

Copyright 2016, Passenger Rail Kansas