When Amtrak re-launched passenger rail service from Fort Worth to Oklahoma City in 1999 after a 20-year hiatus, a contest was held to name the route.
Katie Moore, then 11 years old, came up with the winning entry — Heartland Flyer.
Now 31 years old, Moore took a trip on the Heartland Flyer Friday to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the route, which typically takes four hours and includes stops in Gainesville and the Oklahoma cities of Ardmore, Paul’s Valley, Purcell, Norman and finally OKC.
She and husband Steve Haivala boarded the train with sons Hayden, 10, and Max, 5, and daughter Halle, 8.
These days, Moore is mostly a stay-at-home mom at her home in Oklahoma City, but also finishing her business degree.
She remembers the name Heartland Flyer coming to her naturally.
“We’re the Heartland”
“I knew trains had been called flyers a lot in the past, and we’re the Heartland. It just seemed like an obvious choice, so that’s what I went with,” Moore said.
She and her family arrived in downtown Fort Worth, where they planned to spend a few hours sightseeing before returning to the train for the trip home.
Moore learned of the contest through one of her elementary school classes. The naming contest was sponsored by then-Sen. Don Nickles, whose office received more than 500 entries.
Moore also remembers being surprised by the media attention. A YouTube video shows her christening the Heartland Flyer by breaking a bottle made of sugar and containing confetti — a prop shaped just like a champagne bottle — across the railing of the rear car, in front of dozens of onlookers in her hometown. She then declared: “All aboard the Heartland Flyer!”
“I had never been through something like that before, but obviously for an 11-year-old it was extrememly exciting,” she said.
Although the nationwide Amtrak network is often criticized for requiring federal funding, the Heartland Flyer stands out as a symbol of success.
The genius of the route seems to be in its simplicity. The train features only two coach cars and a snack bar.
It carries an average of 184 riders per day — nearly a sell-out considering only two coaches are used, said Peter LeCody, president of the non-profit Texas Rail Advocates. In all, LeCody said, there were 67,218 passengers on Heartland Flyer last fiscal year.
It runs on time most of the time, using BNSF Railway tracks cutting through Fort Worth’s north side.
And, the costs of the Heartland Flyer are subsidized by the states of Texas and Oklahoma, for a total of about $5 million annually.
The route is also soon be expanded. A proposal to add a second daily service is under consideration, LeCody said.
And, Amtrak officials say, new cities may be added.
“We are actively working to bring on Kansas as a partner by extending the service north to Wichita and Newton,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said.
Until 1979, Fort Worth and Oklahoma City has been linked by the Lone Star, a Chicago-to-Galveston Amtrak route that was the victim of federal budget cuts.
Today, Heartland Flyer passengers arriving in Fort Worth can connect to the Amtrak Texas Eagle, which offers daily service north to Chicago and south to San Antonio.