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Emporia's push for passenger rail still viable after Kansas, Oklahoma endorse expansion of Heartland Flyer to Newton

The Kansas and Oklahoma Departments of Transportation have endorsed an expansion of the Heartland Flyer passenger rail line from Oklahoma City through Wichita to Newton.

Whether that impacts Emporia's push the past several years to add a passenger rail stop to this area hasn't been determined, but First Congregational Pastor Andrew McHenry, a member of the Emporia Rail Coalition, says this at least doesn't reduce the chances of passenger rail here at some point in the future.

McHenry tells KVOE News there was some consideration of sending the Heartland Flyer through Tulsa and Joplin, which would have minimized the chances of additional passenger rail service in Kansas, let alone locally.

A joint statement from both the Kansas and Oklahoma transportation departments would connect the Heartland Flyer to the Southwest Chief, which currently passes through Emporia on its way to terminals in Los Angeles and Chicago but doesn't stop here. The statement also supports Wichita's application for $3 million in transportation grant funds to continue planning.

As work continues to extend service south to Fort Worth on the Heartland Flyer route, the question here is how long will it take to send service north to the Kansas City metropolitan area -- and whether Emporia and Strong City would be on a route. Two years ago, the Northern Flyer Alliance finalized two options for service from Kansas City to Fort Worth, essentially along part of the current Southwest Chief line. One would stop in Emporia and Strong City, with the other stopping in Newton and traveling through Emporia and Strong City with no stops in either town. Costs and ridership are projected to be higher with the Emporia-Strong City route. 

Emporia has not had a passenger train stop here in over 15 years. Local leaders believe a stop would be an economic boost, both for Emporia and the area. McHenry is concerned about the state's penchant for saying it will provide funding for various matters only to pull that funding back later, so he says he will be closely watching the state's direction as the passenger rail discussion continues.

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