Senator Urges Leaders
To Let Oklahomans Decide
That's the message from Senator Dave Herbert, who is making a last appeal to legislative leaders and the Governor not to let Oklahoma's opportunities to become a train hub die on the vine.
"Today we brought together legislative leaders from both the House and the Senate, along with representatives from the Governor's office to hear first-hand what Amtrak officials have to say about Oklahoma's opportunities to become a national hub for first class high-speed rail system," explained Senator Herbert.
Amtrak is introducing a new 180 mile per hour Asela Engine. Twenty-one states are already upgrading their rail passenger lines in preparation for the new high-speed trains, and work has already begun on a corridor between Boston and Washington D.C.
"Oklahoma has an opportunity to get on the high speed rail map and become a profitable link in the new service. But if we don't act now, we will lose it all," said Herbert.
Senator Herbert has authored legislation to let Oklahoma decide the fate of Amtrak through a vote on a temporary one-cent gas tax that will enable the state to keep the Heartland Flyer as well as expanding service within the state and to other states as well.
The legislation was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate, but was not even heard in the House. The reason given was that many Representatives were concerned it would appear they were voting to raise taxes, when in fact it would leave that decision to Oklahoma voters.
Senator Herbert explained legislation is currently being considered in Congress that will offer billions of dollars to enhance high-speed rail passenger systems in the United States. For every dollar that Oklahoma generates with the temporary one-cent tax, the state will gain an addition four dollars.
"Those federal funds come from the existing federal gas tax. For years Oklahoma has been a donor state, paying in far more than we get back. The result has been that we have literally been paying for other states to enhance their rail passenger systems," said Herbert.
"Again, I want to stress we are simply asking the legislature to let Oklahoma decide what kind of future this state will have. With this temporary one-cent tax, we will be able to save the Heartland Flyer. The funding runs out in 2002. This isn't a scare tactic or a threat. The simple fact is, without this action, the train will stop running in two years."
"But not only will it mean saving the Oklahoma City/Fort Worth line, but it will also mean connecting lines between to Denver and Kansas City, as well as between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. We'll also be adding rail service from those metropolitan areas to surrounding communities," noted Senator Herbert.
Information presented by Amtrak Marketing Vice-president Ed Ellis and Carter Burgess, the engineering firm that has studied the links to Denver and Kansas City as well as a link from Oklahoma City to Tulsa, shows that the such a rail program here would not only be feasible, but profitable.
"Oklahoma ranks 15th in the US in miles of existing rail line. That means we simply have to upgrade these lines instead of having to first go out and secure the right of ways as many other states. This gives us a tremendous advantage in developing a first class national and local passenger rail system at a cost much lower than other states are facing," commented Senator Herbert.
"But we have to act now. If we don't get this before the voters this year, it will be too late. That means the legislature must act before the session adjourns on May 26th. We have the chance to give Oklahoma a first-class high speed passenger rail system, or we can just be left in the dust. I hope we will have the vision and courage not to let this tremendous opportunity pass us by," said Senator Herbert.
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