KU study: Amtrak route would benefit Wichita

The proposed Amtrak Northern Flyer train line that would run through Wichita could generate $3.20 in regional economic impact for every $1 invested, according to a new study.

"Overall economic impact shows a break-even return after the first year with a continuing $43 million annual impact," a summary of the study said.

Estimates project that about 30,700 train riders would visit Wichita each year and spend an average of $105. That would land the city about $3.2 million in tourism dollars a year.

The economic impact study was conducted by Jayhawk Consulting, a group of specially selected MBA students at the University of Kansas.

Amtrak is studying the cost of installing a train line between Oklahoma City and Kansas City, with stops proposed in Wichita and Newton, where the Southwest Chief stops on its route between Chicago and Los Angeles.

But Amtrak's study doesn't quantify economic impact, said Deborah Fischer Stout, president of Northern Flyer Alliance Inc.

The Jayhawk study should help the Northern Flyer Alliance get support for a bill that would authorize the Kansas Department of Transportation to develop services and create a fund for federal money to pass through to pay for the line, Fischer Stout said.

"This moves us forward leaps and bounds," she said. "The Legislature needs to know why it's important to re-establish daytime passenger rail service, and this gives them the reasons."

Fischer Stout said the bill will be sponsored by Sen. Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard, and probably another senator.

The city of Wichita and many other cities in Kansas and Oklahoma have officially endorsed the route.

Any action likely will hinge on Amtrak's study.

Trains often don't make enough profit to cover their costs, but advocates say other benefits show trains are an overall benefit.

Advocates hope that support for the rail service in Kansas and Oklahoma will draw federal stimulus dollars to pay for all startup costs. The state would pay Amtrak to operate the line.

Wichita had passenger rail service until 1979, when it averaged about 260,000 riders a year, Fischer Stout said. A new line is expected serve about 150,000 riders a year.