OKLAHOMA CITY – An Oklahoma City woman was surprised by TV cameras, reporters and prizes today at both ends of the Amtrak Heartland Flyer route in Oklahoma and Texas. Marilea Hoffmann was chosen by reservation number to represent the half-millionth passenger when she boarded the train at the Paul Adams Memorial Platform in Oklahoma City.
A second surprise greeting occurred at the Intermodal Transportation Center in Fort Worth, where she received another round of gifts and was met by her daughter, Nancee Hoffmann of Keller, Texas.
“I’ve been riding the train since the beginning,” Marilea Hoffmann told reporters in Oklahoma City, Ardmore, Okla., and Fort Worth. “It is cheaper than driving and much more comfortable.”
In Oklahoma City, the lucky customer was given a city history book by the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and an embroidered travel blanket and cake from the Heartland Flyer Coalition. Upon her arrival, the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau awarded a Hilton Hotel getaway, spa treatment coupon and souvenirs to Ms. Hoffmann.
“I take the Amtrak Heartland Flyer about six times a year to visit my daughter, two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren,” she added.
Amtrak is donating a free round-trip ticket for Ms. Hoffmann and a companion on the Amtrak Heartland Flyer, plus round-trip sleeping car accommodations for two anywhere on the Chicago-San Antonio route of the Amtrak Texas Eagle (Trains 21/321 & 22/322), which connects to the Heartland Flyer in Fort Worth.
The Heartland Flyer has set the stage for more passenger rail service in both states. Amtrak is carrying out a study for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT), looking into extending the Heartland Flyer to Tulsa and other options, while Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) leaders and Amtrak officials have also been discussing additional passenger rail service.
“The success of the Heartland Flyer has been impressive,” said Joe Kyle, ODOT’s Rail Programs Division Manager. “We hope to grow that success so more Oklahomans can benefit from it. Rail travel can be economical for Oklahomans concerned about fuel prices, or just a relaxing way to move around the state, taking in the scenery, while someone else does the work.”
“In a growing state like Texas, it is important that people have transportation options to avoid traffic congestion,” said Steve Simmons, interim executive director for TxDOT. “The Heartland Flyer’s success demonstrates how rail can help us reduce congestion, enhance safety, expand economic opportunity, improve air quality and increase the value of our transportation assets.”
After a strong start on June 15, 1999, the Amtrak Heartland Flyer has done well, with ridership up by 5.8 percent for the current Amtrak fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30th. From last October through August, 63,535 passengers have ridden the train.
“We strive to treat every passenger as if it’s their first trip, with the hospitality they deserve and a smile they might not expect when traveling nowadays,” said Joy Smith, the Texas-based Amtrak Assistant Superintendent in charge of passenger service on the Heartland Flyer (Trains 821 & 822).
Amtrak operates the Heartland Flyer under contracts with ODOT and TxDOT, with the support of the Heartland Flyer Coalition. The coalition is working now on a project in November that is tied to Oklahoma’s centennial celebration.
“While we enjoy staging events to attract new riders, the train’s success depends on its reliability, the Amtrak crews and how it is dispatched by the BNSF Railway. That is a lot of the Coalition’s focus, along with the DOT’s,” said Judi Elmore of Ardmore, the head of the Coalition.
“The communities on our route in Oklahoma and Texas have responded with station improvements and other support, which is another reason for our success,” Elmore added.
The Amtrak Heartland Flyer train is playing a part in Oklahoma’s celebration of 100 years of statehood. Until Dec. 13, each adult passenger who uses a special promotional code can bring a companion with them at no additional charge.
Aside from a few black-out dates during holidays in November, passengers using discount code H711 are entitled to a free companion ticket for the same itinerary at the same time. Enjoy the comfortable and reliable Heartland Flyer while sampling the history of the Sooner State.
— Special to Railfanning.org News Wire