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Heartland Flyer could fall victim to state budget cuts

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OKLAHOMA - The Heartland Flyer could be derailed if lawmakers decide the passenger rail system has to fall victim to budget cuts.

The train boards every morning at 8:25 in downtown Oklahoma City and makes stops in Norman, Purcell, Pauls Valley, Ardmore and Gainesville before ending up in Fort Worth.

It then makes the return trip in the evening.

Department of Transportation officials are concerned this could be eliminated as part of the state’s budget cuts.

“When we’re tightening our belts as a state, we really shouldn’t be hanging up on something we can’t afford,” said Senator Kyle Loveless.

The state allocates $3.2-million to subsidize the rail service between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth.

And, some state lawmakers said that money is not worth the return.

“You’re basically subsidizing Oklahomans going to Texas to spend money in Texas,” Loveless said.

Proponents of the rail service said cutting a viable transportation option is the last thing our state needs to be doing right now.

“This is not just about a Oklahoma City to Fort Worth train. This is about Oklahoma’s economy and future sales tax revenue,” said Evan Stair, president of Passenger Rail Oklahoma.

Stair said the Heartland Flyer also brings Texans up here to spend money.

“People staying in hotels, motels, eating in restaurants, coming up from Texas to Oklahoma to do these things,” Stair said.

“This is something to where I would consider the Heartland Flyer not a core function of government when it runs twice a day, is always running late,” Loveless said.

Loveless said it’s a simple matter of prioritizing, and the train is just not going to come ahead of education of health services, at least for now.

“I’m more along the lines of let’s do a couple years suspension. Let’s not completely get rid of it. Let’s just look at it as, right now, we just can’t afford it,” Loveless said.

A spokesperson for ODOT, though, said they believe, if the service is discontinued even for a brief period of time, it would be the beginning of the end for the Heartland Flyer.

Those who want to see it stay are looking at options of the different cities the train stops in pitching in money to keep it going if the state cuts its funding.

Those budget decisions will be made in the next two to three weeks.

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