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Heartland Flyer: 12 years of rail success

By Susen Foster

Passenger rail lines are in the news a great deal these days, and Oklahoma City to Forth Worth is fortunate to have their own--the Heartland Flyer--which is now celebrating its 12th year running this route.

Last year a news cartoon pointed out the fuel blend used by Amtrak included a beef by-product, and the Heartland Flyer was dubbed "Amtrak's Beef-Powered Train." This factor gave them the privilege of joining the iPad as one of TIME Magazine's list of 50 Best Inventions of 2010.

The advantages of rail travel grow as fuel costs increase, but it is not only the financial motivation that has helped Heartland Flyer increase to nearly 800,000 riders; it is the joy of the journey.

Many of us experienced a train ride some time in our youth--a riotous day trip with school friends traveling by rail to a nearby town, eating a warm and unappealing bag lunch, and returning home by bus before the school day ended. We were tired of being shushed but left with a memory rooted in our hearts.

As I stood on the loading platform at Pauls Valley Depot awaiting the imminent arrival of Fort Worth-bound Heartland Flyer, the almost forgotten youngster in me was stirred by this distant, fond memory. When the brilliant head lamp from the monstrous Amtrak engine pushed its way out of the mist and the clatter of iron wheels grew in intensity, my pulse quickened and I felt that childlike anticipation.

Promotional material touting Amtrak's passenger service between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth begins, "sit back, relax,..." simple words that I skimmed over, thinking more about the line that followed, "...and enjoy the unique scenery unfolding outside the windows." But after Assistant Conductor Mark Line checked our tickets and Conductor Michael Doty made sure we were comfortable and settled in our seats, I took a deep breath and did just what the advertisement said to do: I sat back and relaxed.

It was a remarkably peaceful pleasure to sit in a large comfy seat with legs stretched out and head leaned back watching the countryside fly by fast enough to keep it interesting but not so quickly you feel like you are missing something.

Our fellow travelers included a Texas mom with three small boys heading home after visiting in-laws in OKC. The train is a venue where kids are entertained as well as entertaining and able to sleep or wander about, not stuck in a seat belt asking, "Are we there yet?" For them, as for all of us, the journey was as important as reaching the destination.

Heartland Flyer begins its 418-mile voyage at Bricktown, then makes stops in Norman, Purcell, Pauls Valley, Ardmore, and Gainesville; its final destination is the Intermodal Transportation Center in Forth Worth from whence passengers can easily board the TRE to Dallas, take one of many buses to anywhere in the Metro, or grab a cab to their destination.

If you are making the voyage as a day trip from Oklahoma City or points in between, you arrive in Fort Worth about 1 p.m. and have the entire afternoon to explore Downtown, the Stockyards or any number of destinations before boarding for the return trip about 6 p.m.

This is also a fun way to begin an all-girls getaway (otherwise known as a "chick trip"). Some of the lodging places in Pauls Valley and other depot communities will let you check in early morning or late evening depending on which direction you come from and may even be able to help with transportation. Calling the local Chambers of Commerce will help with that and other information.

Heartland Flyer Community Advocacy groups also help to organize events onboard throughout the year. Visit www.heartlandflyer.com to find out about what is coming up and check for any special discounts.

Reservations for the discounted rates can only be made through the Amtrak Customer Center at 800-USA-RAIL and asking for Code V547.

Get connected to Heartland Flyer and make this a family affair, use it for business travel, or plan a chick trip adventure. You are free to wander the cars and meet new people, grab a bite and beverage at the Club Car, or simply relax.

Editor's note: Susen Foster is the owner of Pecan Cottage Bed & Breakfast in Pauls Valley, Okla. She is the author of numerous travel books. Susen can be reached at www.greatersuccess.com or call 580-622-5408.

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