September 2, 2014

KDOT considers Amtrak expansion

Gene Meyer
Kansas Reporter
TOPEKA — Transportation planners have narrowed their proposals for expanded Amtrak passenger rail service across Kansas to two possible routes, the Kansas Department of Transportation said last week.

The more expensive route would offer daytime service between Kansas City and Fort Worth for a projected 174,000 passengers annually over the same general route, requiring more equipment and additional improvements to track and facilities along the way.

The cheaper of the two proposed routes would provide nighttime service for what Amtrak estimates would be 92,500 passengers a year between Newton, Kan., and Fort Worth, essentially linking Amtrak’s Southwestern Chief, which passes through Newton on its Chicago-Los Angeles run, to the Heartland Flyer, which runs from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth.

Depending on which route is chosen, if either of them is, transportation department officials estimate the service will require either $154 million for infrastructure and equipment costs, plus a potential $3.2 million annual operating subsidy paid by Kansas taxpayers, or $476 million for infrastructure and equipment, plus $8 million annually in state support.

However, those cost estimates are extremely tentative. Officials are working on more detailed business plans for both routes during the next 12 months to present to Kansas legislators in the 2012 session, said Dennis Slimmer, a transportation department spokesman.

At least one independent study suggests the ultimate costs could be higher. Subsidyscope, a project of the Pew Charitable Trusts, in November recalculated losses Amtrak reported on its 44 lines across the U.S. and concluded that system-wide losses were as high as $32 a passenger, four times larger than what Amtrak originally calculated. The recalculated losses on lines closest to the expanded Kansas service ranged between $26.76 and $169.90 per passenger.

Both routes identified last week are among four plans for which federally-owned and railroad-supported Amtrak did feasibility studies earlier this year to examine choices for rail service between Kansas City and Fort Worth, Tex.

Amtrak and industry consultants projected in March that the lower cost Newton to Fort Worth nighttime route would generate about $2.7 million operating revenues annually, compared to $6.1 million annually that the daytime Kansas City to Fort Worth service.

Kansas legislators in March tentatively okayed preparation of plans for potentially expanded passenger rail service in the state, but declined to provide funding. Legislators and governors in Kansas, Oklahoma and possibly Texas will need to approve final plans before any expansion begins.

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