Amtrak’s Southwest Chief could discontinue operation, or move out of southeast Colorado, unless adequate funding can be found for track maintenance. The train runs daily, stopping in Lamar, La Junta and Trinidad. It’s an important economic asset for those three rural communities. Saving this historic, important, long-distance train is a priority goal for ColoRail.
The Southwest Chief is a major passenger train and asset in the nation’s transportation system. It runs between Chicago, Kansas City, Albuquerque, Flagstaff and Los Angeles. Its route through western Kansas, southeastern Colorado, and northern New Mexico uses the tracks of the historic Santa Fe railway. The current owner, Burlington Northern – Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF), now sends very few freight trains on the route. So BNSF has little incentive to maintain the route to a high, passenger-train standard. It notified Amtrak that it will no longer maintain for that level, requiring the passenger line to pay the difference.
Amtrak alone cannot do that. It receives inadequate funding from the U.S. Congress as it is.
The ultimate consequence could be discontinuance of the train. (A potential a re-route of the train to Amarillo, Texas — BNSF’s main, transcontinental line — would be equally expensive.) Led by ColoRail and the City of La Junta, advocates for the Southwest Chief formed a coalition to seek supplemental public funding. The coalition has convinced many state legislators and the U.S. Department of Transportation that the state and federal government ought to come to the train’s rescue. Commitments of matching funds from ColoRail, 16 local governments in Kansas and Colorado, Amtrak, State of Kansas DOT, and BNSF convinced the US DOT to award grants in 2014 and 2015 that are fixing sections of the track in Colorado and Kansas.
Local officials have been particularly persuasive advocates, as has the larger contributions by BNSF, Amtrak, and the state DOT’s. So, as of October, 2015, things are looking up for saving the Southwest Chief. But there is a long way to go. With the new TIGER grant, combined funding from all levels of government will reach somewhere around $47 million. BNSF has now commited to take over maintenance costs for the restored sections of track, in return for the capital contributions by the partners.
The overall costs are now much more manageable. But there remains much track to renovate, especially in New Mexico.
Please contact your state legislators and the Governor and ask them to support additional state funding for the Southwest Chief. If you live anywhere in southeast Colorado, talk to your local elected officials about the importance of the train to the local economy, and ask them to contribute whatever matching dollars they can. The broader the coalition, the more success will build on success. Let’s continue the great wave of support for the Southwest Chief in southeast Colorado!