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April 2005

Report from TESOL 2005!

Riding the Heartland Flyer

New TESOL President Strikes Fast

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The Heartland Flyer The Heartland Flyer

Impressions from the Train Ride to TESOL

In arriving to San Antonio for TESOL 2005, I used Amtrak rail service from Oklahoma City to San Antonio, including the "Heartland Flyer," a beautiful train line between OKC and Ft. Worth.

The Amtrak Station in Oklahoma CityI boarded at the old Santa Fe train station in Oklahoma City, a station dating back to when Santa Fe operated the "Texas Chief" for many years before Amtrak took over the national passenger rail system in 1972. From 1979 to 1999, Oklahomans did not have any train service, until Amtrak opened the "Heartland Flyer" route, which itself is now slated for discontinuance, too.

In the heyday of Santa Fe, Oklahomans enjoyed train connections all the way north to Chicago. Now, they are likely to be left stranded again when federal funding for the "Heartland Flyer" line runs out on September 15, 2005.

View of the Oklahoma River as the train departs OKCOn April 11, a group called "Passenger Rail Oklahoma (www.passengerrailok.org) held a "Save the Heartland Flyer" rally on the steps of the Oklahoma Capitol Building in Oklahoma City. Concerned Oklahomans have given up on the Bush administration--which has expressed its intention to completely de-fund Amtrak--as well as the U.S. Congress, where the Senate recently defeated Byrd Ammendment No. 158, an appropriations resolution for the FY 2006 budget, "to provide adequate funding of $1.4 billion in fiscal yar 2006 to preserve a national intercity passenger rail system." The U.S. Senate Roll Call vote results (46 yeas, 52 nays) are detailed at the U.S. Senate Web site.

A national group called "Save Amtrak" (www.saveamtrak.org reports that the Amtrak Board of Directors did not even file a request for FY2006 funding. Voting board members are listed on the "Save Amtrak" site as: David M. Laney (chair), Norman Mineta (secretary of transportation), Enrique Sosa, and Floyd Hall.

A reminder of the Santa Fe legacy, at ArdmoreOn my ride south through the picturesque Oklahoma and northern Texas countryside, I spent a lot of time in the observation car, with great views of passing scenery as well as windows above with clear blue sky. There are a number of bridges and small towns along the route, each deserving of the train whistle the conductor sounds at regular intervals. During about 10 minutes or so when he was able to sit, the conductor answered my questions about the future of the "Heartland Flyer."

"Yes, this line will close in September if the Oklahoma legislature does not step in," he explained. A distinctive feature of Oklahoma is the red earth colorHe agreed with me that there isn't anything quite like the train for appreciating Oklahoma's and America's natural beauty, but, he pointed out, "It's all about money."

I have found myself wondering why some of the remaining train lines could not be designated as "national parks" or "historic landmarks," and receive the federal funding necessary to keep them going. The "Heartland Flyer" gets very good ridership numbers, and, as many articles have recently pointed out, there is a great economic benefit to the communities that are connected to larger cities via the rail.

The view up above through observation windowsBut I come back to what for me seems the number one reason to conserve (and expand) our nation's railways: they keep us in touch with America's most valuable resources--the land and the sky. You can't really appreciate our nation's skyways from the air, through those tiny, thick windows in commercial jets. And, when we drive, our attention is so focused on steering and moving through traffic that we miss the scenic view. Riding on the train, one can really appreciate the "spacious skies" and "amber waves of grain."

It might be tough to justify including an article about trains in an online newsletter devoted to the needs and interests of ESL professionals. But I would not have discovered the "Heartland Flyer" if not for this year's TESOL convention in San Antonio.

Looking west from the observation carI'm pulling for the Oklahoma train to get the funding it needs, and, in the larger picture, for politicians in Washington, D.C., to recognize that the NYC-DC high speed rail is not the only train of relevance in America. One good reason to keep a rail connection open to OKC is to give Americans adequate access to the Oklahoma City National Memorial in honor of the victims of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building by homegrown terrorists. This April 19th is the 10th anniversary of the event, and the memorial is expected to have 225,000 visitors in 2005.


The Oklahoma City National Memorial

Article by Robb Scott

2005 ESL MiniConference Online