WICHITA - The dream of passenger rail service from Oklahoma City to Wichita and Newton, took a big step forward Friday with announcements at the Union Station in Wichita. The Kansas Dept. of Transportation has committed $3 million of a needed $5 million for studies needed to get the project going.
Also KDOT has given Wichita the go-ahead to pursue $90 million in federal funding, which would make the long held dream a reality.
State Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, was part of the group making the announcement.
"This is good for our region and for the state," she said. "It seems to be all coming together now."
The press conference was held the day before National Train Day, which is today, and also announced a partnership between Wichita, Oklahoma City and Kansas City, to push for the completion of the project. There is a 185 mile gap in rail service between Oklahoma City and Wichita. If the project were to be realized it would connect San Antonio, Dallas, Oklahoma City and north to Wichita and Newton.
Wichita Vice Mayor Pete Meitzner said that while it is still not a done deal, Friday's announcement is a major milestone in the effort to restore passenger rail service. He added that commercial, or freight type trains, could also increase the number of trains and the amount of freight hauled if the project does go through.
"It is a great day," he said. "A year ago we may not have thought we would get this far. We are going to keep on going until it's obvious that it is impossible," he said.
He added the possibility now is greater than it ever has been.
Mick Cornett, Mayor of Oklahoma City, said rail service is very popular in his area. He said the run from Oklahoma City to Forth Worth, Texas, is often full.
A third aspect of the press conference was the new owners of the building where Union Station is located. Occidental Management of Wichita plans to renovate the building.
Newton currently has train service, but as McGinn told the group, it comes through Newton around 3 a.m. It is hoped if the north to south line can be developed, it will reach Newton during the day.
Train supporters said rail service is becoming more popular as fuel costs rise. People are also able to work while riding a train, which they could not do while driving a long distance on business.