Passenger rail returns: Tulsa to OKC

Effective Thursday in a 12 page document, WATCO Companies L.L.C. of Pittsburg, Kansas, issued a Request for Proposal to begin the process of securing a private rail carrier to provide passenger service for an initial period of 10 years between downtown Tulsa and the newly reconfigured Santa Fe Hub in Oklahoma City.

Sources confirm the project will roll out in 2 phases and the route will extend from downtown Tulsa through the cities of Sapulpa, Bristow, Stroud, Chandler and Midwest City into downtown OKC, along the old Sooner Sub track‎.

In 2011, the legislature passed House Bill 1686, the Eastern Flyer Passenger Rail Development Task Force, to study possibilities for linking the Heartland Flyer to the Sub line, which was owned at the time by the state of Oklahoma. To advance the project, the state ultimately sold the line to Watco. Currently, Watco’s Stillwater Central operates freight service over the line but upgrades will be made to accommodate higher speeds for passenger cars. With federal requirements for the installation of Positive Train Control taking effect, WATCO will face its first hurdle in funding that automatic braking system.

“I’m excited about this next big step in bringing passenger rail service to Tulsa. It’s now critical that local leadership in Tulsa come to the table, just as leaders in Oklahoma City already have. This is a fantastic economic development opportunity for Tulsa and great for families traveling the state. I could not be more thrilled with this announcement and remain committed to seeing this important project to completion,” stated Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa.

In 2017, Nichols and Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-OKC, held an interim study 17-107 & 17-081 at which a legal opinion was introduced to clarify and confirm the existing statutory basis giving rights of a passenger carrier on the Eastern Flyer route to enter both the downtown Tulsa and downtown OKC areas. This point and others are to be discussed in upcoming meetings.

“This is great news for a variety of reasons but first and foremost, this is going to mean greater mobility for people who otherwise don’t have it: Oklahomans living in one city who have job opportunities or family in the other. It’s no secret that Oklahoma lags behind when it comes to mass public transit, but I firmly believe that the positive impact of passenger rail service will be felt far and wide, once this is implemented, and further investment will quickly follow. See you on the train!” Rep. Forrest Bennett stated, upon learning of the RFP. Bennett’s District 92 is home to the Santa Fe Depot Hub in Bricktown – OKC.

When the state sold the line to Watco, the contract contained an exit clause allowing the company to pay a substantial fine and walk away from providing the passenger service. Watco is keeping its promise to make every effort to return passenger rail service to all Oklahoman’s including the 7000 online members of the Eastern Flyer website. Daily business travel between the two big cities represents all kinds of economic opportunities, especially the potential for a kind of ‘regional tourism’ at levels like Branson and Pawhuska; examples of awakened small town economies, but, in this case, with the opportunity to partake of the experience by riding a train.

Sen. Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa, states, “This is encouraging news. I am excited to work with my Tulsa Colleague Representative Monroe Nichols and other legislators interested in exploring passenger rail service to Tulsa. Rail service would enhance our current tourism efforts taking place throughout the downtown area.”

Evan Stair, President, Passenger Rail Oklahoma said, “The Oklahoma Tourism and Passenger Rail Act O.S. 66-322 and O.S. 66-235 is a tool available for use by communities and lawmakers to strengthen state and local tax bases.  With rail expansion restored, economic viability will emerge, crucial to essential services such as education.  Our eight year journey along the Route 66 corridor, coupled with strong legislative and community leadership, will usher in a new era of travel choice.  We will again enjoy the freedom to choose travel mode – a hallmark of our new millennium.”

WATCO Companies L.L.C. was formed in Pittsburg, Kansas as a transportation company in 1983 by Charles R. Webb. Watco and is composed of four divisions: transportation, mechanical, terminal and port services, and compliance.

Interested parties may send an email requesting a non-disclosure agreement (“NDA”). Once the NDA is fully executed, a bid package will be emailed to the primary contact. You can request an NDA by emailing Proposals are due on Friday, July 27, 2018

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