Southwest Chief to Remain on Present Route

The Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief will stay on its present route, Amtrak has revealed.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari was quoted by the Santa Fe New Mexican as saying that the deadline to commit funding to a track maintenance pact for the route has been removed.

Amtrak had said that the Chief would have to move off its present route through Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico if funding for rebuilding the BNSF track on the line was not reached by Jan. 1, 2016.

“We are making progress. There is no imminent cutoff date. … We do not want to move this train to another route,” Magliari said.

The Chief uses a former Santa Fe route via the southeast corner of Colorado that BNSF makes little use of for freight traffic. Most BNSF freight traffic uses the Transcon route via Amarillo, Texas.

The states of Colorado and Kansas last year sought a federal grant and set aside for track repairs on their sections of the route.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, who has described funding long-distance trains as a federal government responsibility, authorized $150,000 last year for a study of the Southwest Chief’s costs and benefits.

Even without New Mexico’s commitment of financial support thus far, Amtrak believes all three states have a sound plan in place for upkeep of the tracks.

Magliari and New Mexico State Rep. Bobby Gonzales, D-Taos, said the plan contains no timetable because all the states now have a strategy to cover costs on their part of the route.

Tom Church, cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Department of Transportation, says his agency is devising ways to pay for repairs in New Mexico. “We are coordinating an effort with the Southwest Chief Coalition for the Northern New Mexico cities and counties to develop a TIGER grant through the federal Transportation Department,” Church’s office said.

Garden City, Kan., was the lead applicant for a group of local governments that received a TIGER grant last year to help pay for track repairs on sections of track used by the train.

Twelve communities in Colorado, four in Kansas, Amtrak, BNSF and the Kansas Department of Transportation have pledged more than $9 million to secure the $12.5 million federal grant, said Sal Pace, chairman of the Southwest Chief Commission in Colorado.

Although New Mexico lawmakers recently adjourned without allocating money for track repairs, State Sen. John Arthur Smith, chairman of the State Senate’s Finance Committee, said that the $6.23 billion state budget contains money for local economic development projects.

Smith said $37.5 million designated for economic development programs could give Martinez’s administration the money needed to begin maintenance or help obtain a TIGER grant in collaboration with Kansas and Colorado. BNSF is expected soon to provide updated information on track maintenance costs in New Mexico.

The next application for a TIGER grant for the Southwest Chief project will include Colorado, Kansas, and New Mexico, Pace said.

“Time is of the essence because we’re told the grant might not be around next year,” he said.

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