NM to Study Saving Southwest Chief Costs

The New Mexico legislature didn’t approve helping fund the Southwest Chief, but the New Mexico Department of Transportation will study that prospect.

A state budget signed by the governor allocates $50,000 to the Legislative Council Service to study a proposal by Amtrak for New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas to share the costs of maintaining and improving more than 600 miles of track through their states.

John Yaeger of the Legislative Council Service said legal issues will be considered as well as the costs and economic benefits of the proposal.

Amtrak has said that the three states must share the costs with it and BNSF of maintaining the route used by the Chicago-Los Angeles train. Each party would provide about $4 million annually for a decade.

BNSF has said that it will no longer maintain the route for passenger service after January 2016 because it is a lightly-used freight route.

The route passes through western Kansas, the southwest corner of Colorado and northern New Mexico.

Enrique Knell, a spokesman for the governor, said Tuesday the Transportation Department will support the study in any way possible.

“But it’s important to remember that Amtrak was created and funded by Congress since its inception, and thus, any agreement should not stick the taxpayers of New Mexico with a large tab,” Knell said.

He said New Mexico has never provided money for Amtrak’s passenger service and “any agreement needs to take that reality into account.”

Amtrak contends that it can’t cover the full cost of maintaining the present route of the Southwest Chief and will have to consider shifting the train to a more southern route along a different BNSF line if there’s no agreement on maintaining current track.

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