How to Ride the Heartland Flyer in Oklahoma

When I was young, my grandfather housed his miniature Lionel train set in our basement. The huge, custom-built train table was surrounded by hand-painted backdrops of the Colorado Rockies, and tracks were laid out to allow the steam engine and its passenger cars to weave through the tiny towns and tunnels and alongside cow pastures. My friends and I marveled at the sight, watching him maneuver the controls. Outside of the land of make believe, growing up in New York, the main choice for transportation to and from New York City was the railroad. And, Amtrak was a common choice for going up and down the East Coast or out West.

What is it about trains? Why do they fascinate kids and adults alike? It’s not genetic or scientific but there’s a special thrill associated with this beloved mode of transportation. The train is a destination unto itself, traversing wide open space and offering scenic views of towns not often seen by car or air.  Trains may also be alluring due to their power and size, while their big windows allow for intimate views of the landscape.

Those of us in Oklahoma can enjoy the Heartland Flyer, Amtrak’s passenger route that departs daily from downtown Oklahoma City’s Santa Fe Depot  and leisurely “choo choo’s” its way to Fort Worth, Texas. The 206-mile route includes stops in Norman, Purcell, Pauls Valley and Ardmore, OK and then makes its way through Gainesville, TX and finally into Forth Worth, the “City of Cowboys and Culture.” While on the train, passengers can enjoy some pretty sights, including the lovely Arbuckle Mountains, which look particularly stunning in the fall when leaves are changing, and in the spring when the landscape turns green. While on board the roughly four-hour trip, there’s time to grab a snack in the café car and play cards or simply kick back and watch the world go by from comfortable reclining seats.

If you want to go down and back the same day, there’s a return train departing Fort Worth in the early evening. This allows you to see the local attractions within walking distance of the station, the Stockyard National Historic District. The layover before returning back to OKC is just shy of five hours, affording time to feel the vibe of the Old West. Check out the last standing stockyards in the United States, watch the daily Longhorn Herd Cattle Drive and enjoy local BBQ or steakhouse cuisine. If you choose to stay the night, there’s an Embassy Suites and Hyatt Place within a half-mile of the depot. Then, on day two, you can take the Trinity Railway Express commuter rail service from Fort Worth to Dallas for the day before taking the Heartland Flyer back to OKC from Fort Worth that same evening.

Admittedly, train travel is not the fastest way from Point A to Point B, but it takes the stress out of car rides, provides a lot more freedom to move about than a packed airplane and allows for fun family time.  If you are up for a longer journey, Fort Worth’s Amtrak station connects travelers to the Texas Eagle. This route runs daily between Chicago and San Antonio and continues three days each week to Los Angeles, California. Fort Worth is the hub of the south central corridor for the daily Texas Eagle route and also links St. Louis, Little Rock, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio.

There’s more good news regarding convenient train travel. Keep your fingers crossed because Tulsa may get on board by providing passenger rail service right out of T-town. Proposals have been made and expansion plans have been discussed for the Heartland Flyer or the former Lone Star route to be made available to our community, directly connecting Tulsa to Oklahoma City.

Whether you go down and back in one day, spend time on the front end in OKC and then a night or two in Fort Worth, this is an opportunity to bring Thomas the Tank Engine to life (especially for your little ones).  I wasn’t aware of the Heartland Flyer when my boys were young. But, when we visited Long Island, my father took over the job of introducing them to trains. He took the boys to the nearby station to ride the train while my mother and I drove to greet  them for lunch on the other end.  We could hear the infamous whistle blow as the train pulled up, anticipating the guaranteed giant grins on the boys’ faces as they hopped off the train, asking when they could get back on board.

For more information about schedules and fares, check out www.heartlandflyer.com.  Here, you can find pricing, discounts and information regarding transfers to the Texas Eagle.  For more information about Fort Worth, visit the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau website at www.fortworth.com.

Categories: Travel