Oklahoma's senior U.S. Senator and state transportation czar are trying to derail Oklahoma's newly restored passenger rail service before it ever leaves the station, according to the state lawmaker who was instrumental in bringing Amtrak back to Oklahoma.
"We wanted a Cadillac, but they're trying to give us a Yugo instead. Either these guys didn't know what they were doing when they negotiated the deal or they're deliberately trying to sabotage Amtrak's chances of being successful in Oklahoma. This deal stinks," said Senator Dave Herbert.
The Midwest City legislator is upset with the Amtrak agreement negotiated by Senator Don Nickles and Transportation Secretary Neal McCaleb. Under the agreement plans, there will be no dining car on the train that runs between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, only vending machines.
The trip will take more than four-and-a-half hours.
"People are going to have to carry on a sack lunch and an ice chest just to make it through the trip. Oklahomans are expecting a full-service passenger train, not a boxcar with benches. I've seen more luxurious conditions on the prison buses we use to transport inmates," said Senator Herbert.
Oklahomans would have been better represented in the Amtrak negotiations had Nickles and McCaleb included state legislators in the talks instead of cutting the deal on their own, according to Senator Herbert.
"If the Legislature had been involved, we wouldn't be stuck with such a bare bones operation. Oklahomans would have gotten a train they could be proud of, instead of a sack lunch special," said Senator Herbert.
The lawmaker pointed out that $23 million in federal money has been set aside for Amtrak service in Oklahoma, the lion's share of which is supposed to finance rail and crossing improvements that will allow the train to travel 90 mph. However, it appears Nickles and McCaleb plan to spend the money on a bares bones service that has little chance of building ridership and succeeding. When the money runs out, the train will stop running.
"We're supposed to be making track improvements that will allow us to extend the passenger line to Tulsa and beyond. Instead, McCaleb and Nickles are setting up a nickel and dime train service that will slowly bleed away our money and then fold because no effort was put into it. They've designed this deal to fail," noted Senator Herbert.
"This is typical of them. You can bet they'll show up for the press and the pictures, but when the media glare fades, where are they?"
U.S. Senator Nickles is currently conducting a "Name the Train" contest in his office to celebrate the inaugural trip of the Oklahoma City to Fort Worth train. In light of the poor deal cut by Nickles and McCaleb, Senator Herbert is proposing the train be called "The Nickles/McCaleb Flop."