Reading The Rails:  Amtrak  to OK City
Although youthful fancy has long left me, I still find myself fascinated by trains. Maybe
it’s because those innocuous railroad tracks that I drive over without much thought –
except when an impossibly slow moving freight train holds me up – are actually live
history lessons, just waiting for someone to take notice. In Texas and Oklahoma,
railroad tracks follow old cattle trails and pioneer roads, and many towns grew up or
died around the rails. Some towns even named themselves (or were named)
after railroad executives. Try that with an Interstate or an airline!

So fortified by a love of all things on rail, the fact that Oklahoma is celebrating its
centennial, and the desire to experience a city the way travelers of yore once did – on
foot - I took my family on board the Heartland Flyer, the Amtrak train that makes daily
runs from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth and back. I wanted us to witness the history of
that state from the backside, the kind you only see when you follow the tracks through
landscapes that cannot be viewed from the window of a car.
I took a weekend trip  to Oklahoma City on the Heartland Flyer in 2007. Here's my account of this great adventure,
where we didn't have a car, and didn't need one, as we traversed the very walkable downtown.
From the onset, we weren’t disappointed. Even
with freight train delays, which take precedence
as Amtrak leases the line from the Burlington
Northern Santa Fe Railway, none of us
complained. Maybe it’s because there’s just a  
general acceptance that Amtrak never runs on
time, or the fact (I’d like to think) that with the
way we were traveling, time just didn’t seem to
matter and the point of the trip was the journey
itself.

Besides, there was a lot to see and do. We
whiled away the time meeting fellow travelers,
and I became pretty good friends with the snack
car lady who, like a waitress in a forlorn roadside
diner, offered free advice and wry insights. The
scenery may have also contributed to the mellow
vibe. Since the tracks follow the Santa Fe route,
which is one of the oldest North/South railroads
in Oklahoma, we passed hulking grain silos,
closed depots, abandoned schools, and lines of
old telegraph poles. The train clattered over rust-
colored truss bridges, and ran alongside ancient
alignments of US 77. Derelict warehouses and
slaughter pens reminded us of a not-so-distant-
past that is quickly being forgotten, while to the
contrary, restored train depots amid vibrant
commercial districts welcomed the train. We rode
through the Arbuckle Mountains and skirted the
Washita River, which had whipped into red
colored rapids from the recent heavy rains.
Once in Oklahoma City, we located our hotel, the Sheraton, two blocks from the station.
The next day, like time travelers, we explored the city on foot. We first strolled through
Bricktown, the original site of Oklahoma City. Located just east of the train station, we
found plenty of food and souvenirs, and took a boat ride on the canal that interlaces
the district. History was retold in art works along the way. We viewed murals depicting
long gone street scenes, saw a sculpture that represented the predominantly African
American neighborhood that once clustered around the tracks, and visited an
oversized bronze representation of a land rush scene crossing the Bricktown canal.

What couldn’t be walked to could be discovered via trolley or bus. The Convention and
Visitor’s Bureau runs a deliriously cheap trolley  (50 cents for four) to many of Oklahoma
City’s sites, including the Oklahoma City Memorial. City buses stop at the Capitol
Building, Oklahoma History Center, the stockyards, and the zoo. Both the trolley and the
buses stopped in front of our hotel. And, we never felt unsafe or overly tired from the
amount of walking we did.

The early morning trip back to Fort Worth felt just as relaxing as the first train ride.
While we made pretty good time if you went by the clocks in the Amtrak Universe, I
couldn’t help notice the irony that trains had created time zones to run more efficiently,
and here I was, satisfied to have been delayed by only an hour and a half.

Like I do after every trip on a train, I came home with renewed resolve to support
government subsidies to Amtrak. I also like to think that we left with an appreciation of
the compactness and convenience of train travel, and a sense of the past that can only
come when seeing the landscape roll by as passengers of bygone days once did.
History, I learned, is well served on a train.
A sooner rushing along the Bricktown Canal.
A lovely Canal centers the
Bricktown historical district.
Oklahoma City's Santa Fe Station with
elevated platform sits just west of Bricktown.
Parts of the walls from the Murrah Building that
was blasted on April 19, 1995, still surround the
Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial site. The site,
managed by the National Park Service, is a
moving, emotional tribute to the children, women,
and men who died on this very spot.
  • A short trip to Oklahoma City requires a two night stay, as the train arrives late and
    leaves too early the next day for any meaningful sight seeing. Therefore, a weekend
    trip from Fort Worth to Oklahoma City would begin Friday afternoon and end Sunday
    afternoon.
  • The train departs daily from Oklahoma City at 8.25 am and should arrive in Fort Worth
    at 12.25 pm. The return train leaves at 5.25 pm and with luck, will arrive by 9.25 pm.
  • Tickets can be purchased at http://www.amtrak.com or at the train station. Four round
    trip tickets from Fort Worth to Oklahoma City cost $159.00.
  • Don’t expect the Orient Express on the Heartland Flyer. You’ll find the seats
    comfortable and roomy, but not luxurious. All seating is upstairs while the snack car
    and the bathrooms are downstairs. Luggage can be stored downstairs as well, or in
    overhead bins.
  • All seats are first come, first serve, and the train is relatively old. So if you expect to
    use electronic devices, make sure to arrive early so you can snag a seat with an
    outlet.
  • I.D. is required at the time of check-in and when boarding.
  • The Fort Worth Amtrak Station (1001 Jones Street) is a full service depot, with
    connecting trains to Chicago and San Antonio. It is also the city’s main Greyhound
    Bus depot and a Trinity Railway Express stop. Oklahoma City's station (100 South E.K.
    Gaylord Boulevard) only services the Heartland Flyer, so station operation is limited.
  • Hotels can be booked via the Amtrak website or the Oklahoma City Convention and
    Visitor’s Bureau website. The CVB site makes it easy to figure out which hotels are
    located within walking distance to the train station, and it also has coupons to area
    attractions.
Things to Know Before You Go
While you'll see this depot along the way, the
Heartland Flyer does not stop in
Marietta.
Questions or comments? E-mail me:
robin@redriverhistorian.com