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Wichita seeks grant for rail extension

Published on -6/22/2013, 12:51 PM

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WICHTA, Kan. (AP) -- The state of Kansas and the city of Wichita are seeking nearly $13 million in federal money to complete the planning phase of a proposed project that would extend Amtrak's Heartland Flyer passenger service from Wichita to Oklahoma City.

The project would extend the Heartland Flyer to Wichita and Newton and then connect the Wichita area with the Southwest Chief line to Oklahoma City.

The $12.7 million grant project includes $3 million in matching funds from the Kansas Department of Transportation, which is contingent on $2.3 million in matching funds from Oklahoma. The Wichita City Council is expected to formally support the application Tuesday and a decision is expected in about three months, The Wichita Eagle reported (http://bit.ly/19nlCKv ).

The city and state are seeking part of $473.8 million in federal TIGER, or Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, grants, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation's website.

"We're going to have a lot of competition for the money," said Wichita Vice Mayor Pete Meitzner, who has led the city's efforts to land passenger rail service. "There's not a big bucket there -- maybe $500 million or so -- but the good news is that there are only 10 or 11 other applications that relate to passenger rail."

If the grant is received, it would fund the final engineering design phase of the project, which would determine how much additional right of way, sidings -- low-speed track sections for loading, unloading and storing of train cars -- and rail repair would be needed.

The Kansas Legislature also supports the grant application if Oklahoma officials can provide the matching funds while dealing with damage from two rounds of destructive storms this spring, said Jerry Younger, the deputy secretary of the transportation department.

Younger said competition for the funding is fierce.

"Strictly on that, our chances aren't great," he said. "Now, whether this project gets more traction because it's passenger rail, because it's a multistate project, because of its location, because there's something in the application that creates more weighting, that's strictly up to the feds."

In Oklahoma, officials are considering two possible routes: north through Wichita or northeast through Tulsa. A private study group in Tulsa is examining the possibility of private passenger trains on the northeast route through their city, operating along with a northbound Heartland Flyer line through Wichita.

David Streb, director of engineering for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, told The Associated Press on Friday that there has been no discussion of costs or of Oklahoma providing matching money. He believes any additional rail service will not happen quickly.

"There is two passenger rail routes being looked at, and frankly both of them are probably a long way away from fruition," Streb said. "I think both of those routes are important to Oklahoma."

Streb said a study funded by Oklahoma and Kansas about three years ago found that extending the Heartland Flyer to Newton would cost an estimated $132.5 million.

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com

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