Amtrak restores service to Wichita with shuttle to Newton and OKC stations

Think of it like a train without tracks.

On Monday, the Amtrak passenger rail system formally restored service to Wichita for the first time in 37 years, with a throughway bus connecting to Oklahoma City and Newton on a train-friendly schedule.

The new bus service will allow Wichitans access to about 500 Amtrak railway destinations in the U.S. and Canada. It will feature touring-style buses operated by Village Tours, a Wichita-based charter company.

The idea for a throughway bus arose in discussions with local officials about closing a service gap between routes serving Newton and Oklahoma City, said Amtrak spokeman Marc Magliari

“We’ve talked about doing it with a train, a lot goes into doing it with a train,” Magliari said. “That’s still a great idea, but why wait?

“Why not put a bus connection in and allow people from Wichita to connect to the rest of the world and the rest of the world to connect to Wichita? And that all starts today.”

Magliari joined about a dozen state and local officials for a Monday news conference announcing the new service.

The last time Wichita had passenger rail service was on the Lone Star train, a Houston-Chicago route discontinued in 1979.

Now, passengers from Wichita will be able to board a bus at the downtown Greyhound station and connect to Amtrak’s Southwest Chief at Newton. That train runs from Los Angeles to Chicago with stops including Albuquerque, Dodge City, Garden City, Topeka and Kansas City.

The southbound bus route connects to the Heartland Flyer at Oklahoma City. That opens up access to the Texas Eagle, the southern Los Angeles-Chicago train, with stops in destinations such as Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, El Paso and Tucson; or in the other direction, Little Rock and St. Louis.

Kansas Secretary of Transportation Mike King said the new service is a recognition that state transportation is changing and isn’t just about roads and bridges anymore. The bus service opens a new transportation option along the 1-35 corridor, already one of the nation’s major passenger and commercial trucking routes.

Improved access to rail service “will touch us all,” he said, especially Kansans ages 18-24 who are delaying or refraining from buying cars.

Being on Amtrak’s route map and online reservation service helps Wichita improve its resume among the top 50 cities in America, said Wichita City Council member Pete Meitzner, who has pushed for restoration of train service.

“This provides another transportation option from one of the major metropolitan areas (Chicago) to connect Kansas City, Wichita, Oklahoma City, Fort Worth, go the other way, to the west,” Meitzner said. “This is a thing we keep hearing about from the young people and it’s just a fantastic opportunity.”

The Amtrak connection for now will run daily out of the Greyhound station at 312 S. Broadway.

The northbound bus bus departs at 1:35 a.m. to catch the 2:45 a.m. Southwest Chief out of Newton.

The southbound bus leaves Newton at 4 a.m. for Wichita, then departs Wichita at 5 a.m. to catch the Heartland Flyer in Oklahoma City at 8:25 a.m.

Wichita is in the process of renovating its nearby Downtown Transit Center and the Amtrak throughway bus will eventually be moved there, Mayor Jeff Longwell said.

Dion Lefler: 316-268-6527, @DionKansas