Termini for the Tulsa-Oklahoma City Corridor Investment Plan include the immediate vicinity of Union Station in Tulsa and the Santa Fe Depot in Oklahoma City. These two locations were selected because the current and planned surrounding transportation infrastructure provides for connections to major employment centers and/or tourist attractions as well as retail and residential locations within the respective metropolitan areas. The Metropolitan Planning Organizations of both Tulsa and Oklahoma City areas have published plans centering local transit improvements at these locations maximizing intermodal connectivity. The local transit improvements will be crucial in providing the 'last mile' passenger distribution for the new intercity rail passenger service.
The TULSA-OKLAHOMA CITY CORRIDOR INVESTMENT PLAN is a comprehensive planning initiative by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) in cooperation with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) launched in January 2013. Its goal is to prepare a Passenger Rail Corridor Investment Plan (PRCIP) for the Tulsa-Oklahoma City corridor that will set a framework for future investment in the corridor through 2040. The study is being conducted by ODOT to stay ahead of the growth curve and ensure the state will be eligible for future funding programs to support regional growth and prosperity.
A Passenger Rail Corridor Investment Plan (PRCIP) is an effort managed by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to define and plan for upgrades to passenger rail corridors. Completion of a PRCIP is a precondition of further Federal investment; it must be completed before engineering and construction of the recommended improvements. The PRCIP consists of two key activities: preparation of a Service Development Plan, which is focused on passenger rail service planning and alternatives analysis; and preparation of an environmental analysis of the alternatives conducted under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and related laws and regulations. Both activities require significant public outreach and engagement to ensure that key public and stakeholders' concerns, issues, needs, ideas and options are fully considered in the development and analysis of service alternatives. The outcome of the PRCIP is a preferred alternative or a set of alternatives that best and most reasonably addresses the underlying transportation challenge.
Federal law requires that major federal transportation investments be based on a detailed planning process that objectively evaluates service and alignment alternatives based on a consistent set of comparative criteria, including environmental, transportation, economic, job-creation, land use and cost. It also requires that this process involve and engage the public and stakeholders. For passenger rail, this requirement process is detailed in the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 and encompassed in FRA's High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) program.
The proposed rail service will provide transportation complementing the existing regional passenger transportation system, providing a basis for expanding regional transportation options and supplying customers for the local transit services. It will serve as an alternative to the automobile and existing bus service. The new service will potentially connect with the Heartland Flyer at Oklahoma City, the state-sponsored Amtrak service providing an efficient all-rail alternative from Oklahoma to the Texas Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex and connection into Amtrak's long-distance train network. In addition, a link with the Heartland Flyer will offer an all rail travel alternative from northeast Oklahoma to Norman, Ardmore, and other important locations along the Heartland Flyer route.
Both Greyhound and Jefferson Lines intercity buses serve downtown stations in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Some of the intercity bus routes provide the opportunity to extend the reach of the multimodal system to parts of Oklahoma and the region without the population densities needed to support passenger rail transportation. Instead of outright competition, coordinating schedules can provide the opportunity to provide seamless transportation to an extensive network of origin-destination pairs. Greyhound and Jefferson Lines offer north south intercity bus service along I-35 and east-west service along I-40 as well as a diagonal route southwest to Chickasha, Lawton and Wichita Falls, Texas, and north and northeast from Tulsa.
Tulsa Transit and Oklahoma City’s Metro Transit operate local bus service generally focused in the more densely developed parts of their urban areas. Tulsa Transit and Metro Transit wish to meet the service needs of their patrons and will look to adjust routes and increase frequencies where needed to distribute (or collect) rail passengers. In addition, limousine and taxi services will respond to the market created by the rail passengers and provide new connecting service.
While the Tulsa-Oklahoma City passenger train will potentially draw some traffic away from the Turner Turnpike, the growth of Oklahoma's vibrant economy will continue to increase the overall demand for travel and require the Turnpike to remain a necessary component of the transportation system.
Finally, new passenger rail service affords the opportunity for energy diversification with the potential use of compressed natural gas to power the trains. Regardless of the trains' fuel source, the steel wheel on steel rail is an extremely energy efficient technology due to its very low rolling resistance. This energy efficiency results in lower emissions for any fuel.
The TULSA-OKLAHOMA CITY CORRIDOR INVESTMENT PLAN PRCIP is projected to take approximately 33 months to complete. The work was started in November 2012 and is planned for completion in the summer of 2015. The project takes this length of time in order to thoroughly and consistently analyze reasonable service and alignment alternatives, undertake the necessary environmental analyses, and maximize outreach to the public and corridor stakeholders.
TULSA-OKLAHOMA CITY CORRIDOR INVESTMENT PLAN is directed at ensuring public and stakeholder involvement both in defining the specific transportation problems and concerns and in assessing the alternatives selected to address those problems. A Public Involvement Plan (PIP) has been developed that details concepts for engaging the public in TULSA-OKLAHOMA CITY CORRIDOR INVESTMENT PLAN. The PIP identifies stakeholders that may be affected by the PRCIP, approaches to engaging the public and stakeholders, and tools for communicating with the public about the project. Public meetings and hearings will be conducted at key stages of the NEPA process. A scoping process will be held to solicit public input on the issues and concerns that the study should address. Public meetings, hearings and a public comment period will also be provided for the Draft EIS. Beyond this required input, FRA is engaging in a broad, proactive public involvement process that includes a variety of means to educate, communicate and create a dialogue about the project, including a project website, periodic newsletters, workshops and meetings, and responses to comments and inquiries.
The current study is very different from all previous studies—it is being led by the Federal Railroad Administration, and it will result in a federally-approved environmental clearance document (known as an “Environmental Impact Statement”). The study will also contain an FRA-approved passenger rail service plan (known as a “Service Development Plan”). Completion and approval of these documents will allow the State of Oklahoma to apply for federal financial support for passenger rail service in this corridor.
There are several reasons why it is not practical to start service immediately:
Federal regulations require an advanced train control technology, Positive Train Control or PTC, to be installed on all rail lines where passenger trains operate by 2015. Although this deadline may be extended, currently the Sooner Sub has no signal system to ensure safe train operations.
The current study will develop the costs of upgrading the Sooner Sub to provide passenger service at several alternative train speeds. Additionally, ridership estimates will be calculated to determine the expected number of passengers at each service level and amount of investment needed to start passenger service on the Sooner Sub. While we cannot give a specific cost estimate at this stage in the study, due to the safety requirements (signalization and crossing improvements), need for additional passing tracks, as well as equipment and coverage of operations, $50 million will not meet all of the needs of starting and operating a new passenger rail service.
No. Passenger rail service is considered a business like freight service, and therefore a rail company could be interested in any service that can be operated profitably. In addition, the sale document will require the purchaser to allow for the addition of passenger rail service to the Sooner Sub if a viable business plan can be produced for the introduction of new passenger rail service. Also, the Passenger Rail Act of 1970 guarantees Amtrak the right to operate on rail lines in the United States—therefore at minimum at least one option exists—to have Amtrak operate the service.
While it is true that in 2009 ODOT submitted a project request to FRA that totaled $2 Billion, that number represented the cost of establishing 125 MPH passenger service between Tulsa and the Oklahoma-Texas border, a total distance of 235 miles. The end points of the service currently being considered are Tulsa and Oklahoma City, a distance of only 105 miles. In addition, ODOT is developing all new costs as part of this study that will examine various operating speeds and scenarios, so at this time ODOT does not have a specific plan or cost for connecting Oklahoma City to Tulsa by rail. Completion of this study will yield project-level cost estimates as part of the FRA-approved Corridor Investment Plan.
One important purpose of the study is to measure the public benefits of new rail service to weigh against the costs of starting it. The study will quantify environmental benefits, energy savings, reductions in accidents, and economic impacts, among others, of building rail compared to use of the automobile. The study will also examine the impact on time and cost of travel in the corridor, and it will estimate ridership and operations expenses to view new rail service from a business perspective as well.
The rail service will not be limited to the two major cities. The study will examine various train schedule alternatives including adding stops at towns along the corridor.
ODOT recognizes the importance of both passenger and freight rail transportation to the state of Oklahoma. The study will identify the infrastructure and operations required to provide both competitive passenger and freight service where tracks are shared. New passenger service will have to avoid negatively affecting freight service.
The study has been designed to comply with requirements of the Federal Railroad Administration and the National Environmental Protection Act. Besides the time required for the technical analyses, the environmental assessment process provides for considerable public participation throughout the study to ensure that the interests of the public are considered.
You just said "considerable public participation" is part of the study, yet public comment did not appear to be welcome at the September 2013 meetings. The only way opinions could be heard was to speak to ODOT staff or submit written comments. Why couldn't the public share its thoughts so that everyone can hear them?
The purpose of the first set of public meetings earlier in the fall was simply to provide the public with an initial understanding of the study PROCESS as well as a broad overview of the study aims and goals; and to solicit participation from relevant governmental organizations and entities. We sought written comments from the public in an effort to sign them up to receive future project updates as the study progresses. . The next round of meetings (planned for early 2014) will formally present the alternatives, and provide an open forum for discussion. Beyond this next meeting, there will be other public meetings as well, one set of which will allow the public to physically record their comments as part of the official public record of the project.