Grant may be SW Chief Route ‘Game Changer’

A senior Amtrak official has described the successful work in Kansas to gain federal funds to upgrade the route of the Southwest Chief as being a “game changer” in the efforts to keep the Chicago-Los Angeles train on its existing route.

Ray Lang made the comments during a meeting with the New Mexico State Transportation Commission on Sept. 18 in Raton, N.M.

Lang, senior director of state government relations, was referencing a $12.5 million TIGER Grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration that will be used to upgrade and maintain 244 miles of track from Hutchison, Kan., to the Colorado state line.

Lang said that Amtrak will contribute $4 million, BNSF will provide $2 million, and the Kansas Department of Transportation will pay $3 million for track rehabilitation.

The six-member transportation commission met before a crowded room of state and local government representatives from Colorado and New Mexico.

Amtrak has been seeking funding from New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas to pay for track upgrades and maintenance of 632 miles of track used by the Chief in western Kansas, southwest Colorado and northern New Mexico.

BNSF, which owns the track has said that after January 2016 it would only maintain the rails to support speeds of 30 mph. Amtrak wants top speeds of 79 mph.

The New Mexico legislature has thus far not committed to spending any money to help main the route of the Chief.

“We are essentially talking about a public-private partnership that may not be typical for transportation in New Mexico, but it is common throughout the United States,” civil engineer and soon-to-be Raton City Manager Scott Berry said before the state transportation commission.

New Mexico State Rep. Dennis J. Roch expressed gratitude to his colleagues for their support of the campaign to prevent the Southwest Chief from being moved to a more southern route.

“Refreshingly, this is not a partisan issue,” said Roch, who represents House District 67 which includes a portion of northern Colfax County – including Raton.

Roch, who is up for re-election in the 2014 general mid-term elections in November, said keeping the Southwest Chief on its present route is priority No. 1 for his district constituents.

Berry agrees. “Amtrak is really the single most transportation issue to Raton.”

 

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