Pueblo Renews Push to Become SW Chief Stop

Officials in Pueblo, Colorado, have renewed their push to reroute Amtrak’s Southwest Chief to serve their community.

The effort comes in the wake of successful efforts to assure the future of the train’s current route through western Kansas, southeastern Colorado and northern New Mexico through the use of federal TIGER grants.

The grant money is being used to rebuild the BNSF tracks used by the Chicago-Los Angeles train.

“If Colorado is going to help save this line, we need to have a stop in Pueblo,” said Sal Pace, a Pueblo County commissioner who has been active in the fight to keep the Southwest Chief on its present route.

Pace is chairman of the Southwest Chief Commission and is promoting the use of Pueblo Union Station. Pueblo has not had intercity rail service since the coming of Amtrak on May 1, 1971.

“The funding mechanism is there,” Pace said about the prospect of a Pueblo stop for the Chief. “The devil is in the details.”

A Colorado State University study estimated that adding Pueblo to the route of the Southwest Chief would attract 15,500 passengers annually and have an economic impact of a $3.4 million.

Pace and others have discussed extending operation of the Denver ski train south along the Interstate 25 corridor.

The ski train currently operates between Denver and Winter Park, Colorado, which is the same route used by Amtrak’s California Zephyr.

Colorado passenger rail advocates see extended operation of the ski train as a way to introduce rail passenger travel to Coloradoans living in areas not served by Amtrak or commuter rail service in the Denver metropolitan area.

“The Ski Train is more than just Winter Park for us,” said Jim Souby, president of the Colorado Rail Passenger Association and a member of the Southwest Chief Commission. “It’s showing people how great it is to ride the train.”

A Colorado Department of Transportation study of a proposed Front Range rail system that would extend between Fort Collins and Pueblo put development costs at between $500 million and $1 billion.

Amtrak has been noncommittal about revising the route of the Southwest Chief to include Pueblo and Walsenburg, Colorado. At present, the only stations served by the Chief in Colorado are Lamar, La Junta and Trinidad.

“We think it’s something worth considering,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. “It’s just a question of cost.”

An Amtrak conductor who works aboard the Southwest Chief sees benefits to having the train serve Pueblo.

“Pueblo would be a big stop,” Marcelino Martinez told the Denver Post. “It would probably rival Kansas City and Albuquerque.”

Martinez said some Chief passengers drive from Colorado Springs to board the train. “We get a lot of people driving down (to La Junta) so they can get to Los Angeles,” he said.

Pueblo is home to the Evraz steel mill, which employs 1,200, and is the nation’s leading producer of rail, some of which is going to be used in rebuilding the route of the Southwest Chief.

The federal government also operates a test track for railroad technology to the east of Pueblo.

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