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Oklahoma Journeys

Passenger Trains Leaving Oklahoma

2011-03-12

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For twenty years from 1979 to 1999 Oklahoma had no passenger rail service. At its peak Oklahoma had more than 70 passenger trains each day making stops in the Sooner State. That was during world War Two, but by the late 1960s airlines were taking most of the passenger business away from the railroads and that meant big changes ahead for the traveling public. That's our story on Oklahoma Journeys from the Oklahoma History Center.

From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Journeys. I'm Michael Dean.

Following the Civil War, the westward expansion began in earnest. In 1871 the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad, or Katy for short, built a line into the territory to connect trains from Kansas City to Dallas. Later in the 1870s the Frisco entered the territory, though it took until 1898 before its lines were extended from Oklahoma City to Lawton. In 1888 the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe built a line from Arkansas City, Kansas, to Gainesville, Texas, running through what was then called Oklahoma Station. A year later in 1889, many of the people making the land run into the central part of the state arrived from both the north and the south on the Santa Fe Railroad. Also in 1888 the Rock Island followed the old Chisholm Trail running tracks to Pond Creek, El Reno and Minco, and by 1893 from Minco to Dallas. Those railroads played an extremely important part in the growth of Oklahoma. Our central location made it possible to take a train from Oklahoma to almost every major city in America.

By the 1940s Oklahoma had more than 70 daily passenger trains passing through the state. Not only did those trains carry passengers, but they also carried the U.S. mail. Following the war, a number of changes began taking place. Airlines began competing with the railroads for passenger service, and by the late 1950s and early '60s more people were flying than were riding the rails. The post office began shipping more and more mail on airplanes.

In 1968 there were just five passenger trains serving Oklahoma. The Kansas Citian that ran through Oklahoma City to Fort Worth and back; the Santa Fe's Chicagoan which left Oklahoma City every morning at 3:25 for Chicago; the Santa Fe's Texas Chief making a daily run from Kansas City to Dallas and back; and a Kansas City Southern train that ran through Sallisaw on its run from Kansas City to Shreveport then to New Orleans.

In 1971 the federal government created Amtrak and took over passenger service across the nation. By that time only the Santa Fe Texas Chief ran passenger service in Oklahoma, and in 1979, that train was discontinued. But in the fall of 1999, AMTRAK created the Heartland Flyer that makes a daily run from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth and back, with stops in Norman, Purcell, Pauls Valley, Ardmore and Gainsville, Texas. The Heartland Flyer has been very successful and many hope that that service will eventually be extended to Tulsa and eventually north to Kansas City.
You can learn more about transportation in Oklahoma by visiting the transportation gallery in the Oklahoma History Center, NE 23rd Street just east of the state capitol in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Journeys is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to the collection, preservation, and sharing our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.