I’m sitting on a sold-out Heartland Flyer from Fort Worth back to Oklahoma City as I write this (the posting was delayed until Monday morning, however). I’ve spent the past five days in Dallas/Fort Worth, and I’ve come back with a lot to share with you, the readers.
Let’s just start with the train itself. The Heartland Flyer, by all appearances, is a success. Is it still relying on public subsidies to stay afloat? Yes. And so are the airlines and every motorist in America. I also know now, without a doubt, that the train is generating tourism, and more importantly, tourism dollars, for Oklahoma City.
But our relationship with the Heartland Flyer might well represent our city’s relationship with Oklahoma mass transit in general. We give token attention to it, but we don’t put the same emphasis or work into it that we do our streets and bridges.
That’s odd. Truth be told, Oklahoma City wouldn’t have been born without trains. Ask any historian – they’ll back me up on this.
When the mid-20th century arrived, we turned our back on trains. There wasn’t any referendum, there were no polls – but there were certainly some suspicious business deals that led to the dismantling of the once beloved Interurban and OKC Railway Co.
Likewise, one might look for some odd reasoning behind the abandonment of Amtrak service in 1979. We were told sacrifices were being made and that we needed to be grateful when we got the Heartland Flyer.
The Heartland Flyer, of course, only goes to Fort Worth and isn’t well connected to the national system. But let’s just be grateful for what we’ve got and not expect too much, alright?
Likewise, compared to other stops along the route of the Heartland Flyer, Oklahoma City’s train station is pitiful. The grand old Santa Fe Depot isn’t the problem – it’s still a wonderful building. But it’s got no soul – no life, no activity. When city leaders failed to have the vision necessary to buy the once dilapidated station in the mid-1990s, the late Jim Brewer did. And the Brewers aren’t the bad guys here – they’re businessmen. They buy properties and seek to make money. They renovated the station – with more than $1 million in state tax dollars – but they’ve made it whole.
But the idea of making a lot of money off the station by turning it into a hotel or restaurant or shops hasn’t materialized. But that may be good news. With all the ideas being considered for MAPS 3, it’s amazing that perhaps the simplest and most cost effective option has yet to be even discussed.
Downtown Oklahoma City is a tourist destination. I’ve seen ample evidence of it this past week. Keep reading this blog all week long to learn what possibilities lie ahead if we just appreciate what we’ve got.