Making connections 

High-speed passenger rail fans shouldn’t get too excited about the prospect of a corridor between Oklahoma City and Tulsa — at least not yet.

Nevertheless, the notion of traveling between Oklahoma’s two largest cities in less than an hour might become an eventual reality, provided the stars align and the federal government keeps on course to develop a national intercity passenger-rail system.

Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) officials are taking the first step with a public meeting Thursday in Oklahoma City.

The meetings give people a chance to provide feedback on the Corridor Investment Plan, a study that evaluates service options, investment requirements and environmental impacts. ODOT received $3 million in federal funds for the project, which should be completed by 2015.

David Streb, ODOT’s director of engineering, said one option includes a high-speed passenger rail line that could cost as much as $1.9 billion to build and $31 million annually to maintain and operate. The proposal could create a straight rail line between the cities with an estimated travel time of less than an hour.

That travel time might be reduced even further depending on the passenger service used. A limited-stop service focused on providing connections to multiple cities along the route can reach speeds up to 110 mph, according to the website A limited-stop intercity passenger service aimed at the fastest trip time between major urban centers can reach speeds up to 225 mph. That alternative would require electric trains operating on a dedicated track, the site shows.

Another plan using an existing line currently being used by freight trains would be less expensive but would more than double the travel time, according to Streb.

ODOT cautions people not to expect too much too soon.

“It’s hard to engage people because we’re talking about long-range planning. You can’t snap your fingers and have a train running. We’re a long way from elected officials in Oklahoma making a decision on that type of investment,” Streb said.

“Practically speaking, this study will examine how many trains would be needed, how many riders it might attract, potential routes, properties that could be impacted and the most feasible and cost-effective way of making this happen.”

The study is a critical component for a future Oklahoma City-to-Tulsa rail line because of the federally mandated environmental clearance.

“Once it puts the state of Oklahoma in a position to apply for future federal funds, that would pay for final design plans and construction,” Streb said. “This is much more than an alternatives study and getting cost estimates.”

The Obama administration has provided $10.1 billion in funding — through the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program — for more than 150 planning and construction projects nationwide.

The OKC-to-Tulsa project is part of a larger regional corridor that would extend south to San Antonio.

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Tim Farley

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