Passenger rail advocates are pushing to bring back Amtrak service from Fort Worth to Kansas City, Mo., after a 33-year hiatus.
Even if things go well, it will likely be several years before the old Lone Star route, which was discontinued in 1979, can be resurrected -- and that's only if supporters cobble together startup funds of $136.5 million to $475 million from the federal government and the states served along the way.
But if it could be done, the Lone Star route today would serve up to 368,000 passengers per year, according to a service development plan completed in November. That would be more passengers than the line carried in its heyday, a supporter said.
Several alternatives could reduce the cost, including a proposal for a shorter route that would extend service from Fort Worth to Newton, Kan. -- about 190 miles southwest of Kansas City -- for about $136.5 million. From there, Amtrak riders could transfer to the Southwest Chief to complete their trip to Kansas City -- and the investment of public dollars would be less than the cost of rebuilding a freeway interchange in a major city, said Deborah Fischer-Stout, president of the Northern Flyer Alliance, a group that includes 49 cities along the Interstate 35 corridor that want to expand rail service.
"The mindset of this country that passenger rail is expensive and roads are not is just incorrect," she said.
Fort Worth is served by two Amtrak lines: the Heartland Flyer, with daily service to Oklahoma City, and the Texas Eagle, with daily service to San Antonio and Chicago. Both routes stop daily at the downtown Intermodal Transportation Center at 1001 Jones St.
The Heartland Flyer carried about 78,036 passengers over 11 months during fiscal 2011, and the Texas Eagle served 277,188 passengers over that period.
Texas could benefit from service to Newton, Kan., or Kansas City, officials said, although they have made no financial commitment beyond the state's annual $2 million contribution to offset the Heartland Flyer's operating costs.
"Our position is that we would support increases in service and the potential increased ridership that would bring," Bill Glavin, Texas Department of Transportation rail division director, said in an e-mail. "We will not chip in to support capital construction or upgrade activities outside of Texas."
The service development plan was prepared by the Parsons Brinckerhoff consulting firm for the Kansas and Oklahoma transportation departments
It details a few options, including a proposed extension of the Heartland Flyer service from its current northern terminus at Oklahoma City to Newton, Kan., a nighttime service that could be started for about $136.5 million in capital costs and $4.4 million in annual operating costs.
Another option would be to supplement the Heartland Flyer service with a new Fort Worth-to-Oklahoma City route, which would run through Kansas in the daytime and have $436 million in capital costs and $10 million in annual operating costs.
Combining both services would total $475 million in capital costs, plus $13.7 million in annual operating costs.
The plan would include track improvements along Fort Worth-based BNSF Railway's freight corridor, which is now used by the Heartland Flyer.
Amtrak, the nation's only coast-to-coast passenger rail service, conducted its own initial feasibility study of the Fort Worth-to-Kansas City line in 2010. The study listed four options for creating the service, including the two in the Parsons Brinckerhoff study.
Amtrak is now stepping aside as states along the proposed route determine whether they want to support it and how to pay for it. Amtrak is a corporate-run passenger rail line heavily subsidized by the federal government, and Congress, as recently as last fall, discussed slashing its funding.
Amtrak lacks a north-south route in America's midsection, with a huge gap between routes in the Midwest and those on the West Coast, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said.
"There's no way to travel from Kansas City to Fort Worth, or Albuquerque to Fort Worth, without first going backward," he said.
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796