Passenger rail service from Kansas City to Texas faces a long, expensive and uncertain track, according to a study released Thursday.
Developing daytime service, which would include late morning and early afternoon stops in Wichita, would take about seven years and cost $436 million. An additional $10 million in annual subsidies would have to be shouldered by Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. The service could attract an estimated 256,700 new Amtrak passengers.
A second plan would extend the existing Heartland Flyer route that runs between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth to Kansas City, including middle-of-the-night stops in Wichita. That would cost $136.5 million to develop and take roughly six years before passengers could board. It would cost Kansas and Oklahoma about $4.4 million a year in subsidies and draw 111,300 more passengers to the Flyer route.
The projected timeline drew criticism from Evan Stair, executive director of Passenger Rail Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, a group advocating expanded rail service.
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“The need for these services is already upon us,” said Stair in a prepared statement. “The three states and Amtrak need to find ways to cut this timeline. It seems we are studying this route into oblivion.”
Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita, who’s on the Senate Transportation Committee, has not yet seen the study but said he isn’t sure whether expanded passenger rail service has a future in Kansas. But he said he doesn’t oppose the idea.
"The reality is that it’s going to be a long, hard slough to get something done where we’re spending enough money to improve these rails to make them viable for Amtrak,” he said. "It’s not just pull the trigger and, oh boy, we have service between here and Dallas."
Three studies required
The study was conducted by Parsons Brinckerhoff, a global consulting firm, for the Kansas and Oklahoma departments of transportation. It is one of three required before the states can apply for federal passenger rail grants.
Next, transportation officials in Kansas will present the study to House and Senate transportation committees without any recommendation in hopes of hearing whether lawmakers want to proceed with environmental studies and preliminary engineering.
The study cites many benefits of the proposed rail plans: less road maintenance, less vehicle emissions, fewer highway crashes and more productivity while not driving. But it says the benefits of an expanded Flyer route would roughly equal the cost to build it and maintain it while the cost of daytime service between Fort Worth and Kansas City would outweigh the projected benefits.
Other studies’ findings
Stair said that overlooks other benefits and contradicts prior studies.
“The economic model used in this study does not include after-the-farebox revenues that make passenger rail not only viable, but necessary in our economy, struggling to rebound since the 2008 collapse,” he said.
Last year, a report by Jayhawk Consulting — a group of select MBA students at the University of Kansas — showed Wichita could generate $3.20 in regional economic impact for every dollar invested. It projected 30,700 train riders would visit Wichita and spend roughly $105 each, netting $3.2 million in tourism dollars a year.
Wichita and dozens of other cities, counties and business groups have endorsed some form of expanded passenger rail service.