Boardman Tours Rebuilt S.W. Chief Route

As part of what has been billed as a farewell excursion, Amtrak President Joe Boardman recently toured the route of the Southwest Chief and recognized local officials for landing federal money that was used to rebuild the tracks used by the train in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico.

BNSF owns the former Santa Fe tracks used by the Chicago-Los Angeles train but has little freight traffic on it.

Amtrak logoBack in 2012, BNSF said that it would no longer maintain the route to support passenger train speeds, which raised questions about the future of the Southwest Chief.

The cities of Garden City, Kansas, and La Junta, Colorado, in response sought and won federal TIGER grant funding totaling $27.6 million that was used to begin a track rehabilitation project.

“Since my service as Amtrak CEO began in 2008, Amtrak and BNSF have worked together to match federal grants with investments from both of our railroads, states and towns,” Boardman said.

The first of those grants was $12.4 million awarded to Garden City. It was combined with $9.3 million of private, local and state funding to renovate nearly 47 of the 158 miles of bolted rail sections between Pierceville, Kansas, and Las Animas, Colorado, to Federal Railroad Administration Class 4 condition.

That work enabled Amtrak Nos. 3 and 4 to operate at up to 79 mph. The project involved installing continuous welded rail and creating new grade crossings and turnouts.

A year later La Junta received a grant of $15.2 million that was used to rebuild the track on the La Junta Subdivision in Colorado and on 20 miles of the Albuquerque Subdivision. That project involved 39 miles of new continuously welded rail and ballast.

BNSF Executive Chairman Matt Rose, Interim Kansas Transportation Secretary Richard Carlson and mayors and state transportation officials rode with Boardman over portions of the route of the Southwest Chief.

The project also received $8 million from Amtrak and $4 million from BNSF.

Boardman also lauded the leadership and problem-solving strategies used to save the Southwest Chief.

Officials said more grant funding will be needed for future track rehabilitation on Raton Pass on other sections of track near Lamy, New Mexico.

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