OKLAHOMA CITY The possibility that passenger rail service could become a reality in Oklahoma again is greater than it has ever been. So says State Senator Dave Herbert (D-Midwest City).
Herbert co-chairs the newly created Passenger High-Speed Rail Task Force charged with investigating the feasibility of restoring passenger rail service to the Sooner State. The task force holds its first meeting on Wednesday, July 17 at 10 a.m. in room 419-C at the State Capitol.
"I believe these task force meetings are the first step in bringing back passenger service, specifically Amtrak service," said Senator Herbert. "I am convinced that the information obtained by this study group will persuade those who have scoffed at the idea of Amtrak's return to see the light."
The task force is scheduled to hear from Oklahoma Department of Transportation official Joe Kyle during its first meeting. Kyle plans to outline the results of two Amtrak studies of rail service possibilities in Oklahoma. There will also be discussion of the federal government's role in an Amtrak return.
"The latest information I've been able to obtain from Washington indicates Congress may provide millions to develop Amtrak's service," said Senator Herbert. "Special emphasis is being placed on states without rail service. Oklahoma alone could be in line for some $39 million to restore rail service
Oklahoma and South Dakota stand to reap the biggest benefits from the high-speed rails. Oklahoma's geographic location appears perfect for Amtrak's purposes.
"Our central location has made us popular with the trucking industry," added Senator Herbert. "So much so that we are considered by many as a trucking hub for the entire nation. A return of passenger rail service coupled with Washington's apparent desire to expand rail as a viable transportation option could make Oklahoma a hub for Amtrak service as well."
Representative Mike Tyler (D-Sapulpa) serves as the task force's other co-chairman. The panel consists of 17 members, twelve of which are appointed by the Senate President Pro Tem and the Speaker of the House. The five additional members are the governor's cabinet secretaries for transportation, tourism, commerce, public safety, and the chairman of the State Corporation Commission.
The task force was created by SJR 12 during the 1997 legislative session. Along with rail service feasibility studies, the panel must develop funding options and submit two progress reports to the Legislature. The task force is impaneled until December of 1998.