ARDMORE, OK -- Red River Rivalry weekend is one of the biggest weekends of business for the Heartland Flyer, an AMTRAK train that usually runs from Oklahoma City to Ft. Worth. However an Oklahoma Senator says "despite considerable publicity, the service has never made a profit".
The Heartland Flyer has been back up and running since 1999, and this weekend as the Sooners and Longhorns go head-to-head, the train will be making a special trip to Dallas with about 260 passengers on board. Advocates of the AMTRAK train say it is an efficient way to travel, but some government officials say during this down economy it is a service we could go without.
Each year hundreds of football fans climb aboard the Heartland Flyer to travel to Dallas to watch the Sooners and Longhorns play in the Red River Rivalry, but concerns over the cost to operate the train could bring it to the end of the line.
In July U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (OK) released a report about wasteful spending in Oklahoma, and the Heartland Flyer was singled out as one of the unprofitable services that wastes millions of dollars each year.
Senator Coburn's Communication's Director John Hart says for the AMTRAK system to break-even fees would have to be doubled. He says even with its growing popularity not enough people ride the train to make this a priority project.
"Oklahoma had to spend about $1.6 million last year to keep the train going and that's money that would have been better spent on repairing bridges, or expanding roads, and doing other things that improve public safety and generate real economic activity," Hart said.
AMTRAK operates through an agreement with both the Oklahoma and Texas Departments of Transportation. ODOT says they feel fortunate to offer a service that can run in bad weather, and provide affordable transportation for people who do not drive. Chairman of the Heartland Flyer Judi Elmore says it is a neat way to travel.
"It's a safe efficient way for people to get to the ball game. We add extra equipment. We have an observation cart which we don't ordinarily have so that's a treat for our passengers," Elmore said.
Hart says while the train may have some benefits with a national debt of about $15 trillion dollars hard choices will have to be made, and expenses like the Flyer may have to be cut.
"We're at a point where we can't afford to fund things that are going to lose money," Hart said.
ODOT says the Heartland Flyer has had "a great success in its short history", and so far it has served more than 180,000 passengers.
"It's a wonderful way to travel. It's very relaxing. It's really scenic, particularly between here and Pauls Valley. Beautiful areas that you can only see from the train."
Elmore says this weekend every Heartland Flyer seat is already taken. To find out what other events are coming up visit the Heartland Flyer website at http://www.heartlandflyer.com.