Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak in Colorado’

Amtrak Matching Funds for Rebuild of S.W. Chief Route Coming With Terms and Conditions

April 5, 2018

Amtrak has agreed to contribute matching funds toward the project to upgrade the route of the Southwest Chief, but at a price it has never demanded before.

The passenger carrier will only agree to help fund the track rebuilding if the states promoting the project as well as BNSF submit a comprehensive plan for the remainder of the infrastructure investments and associated costs to rebuild the route in New Mexico.

Amtrak has also demanded that “prior to the obligation of grant funds for this project, the County of Colfax, N.M., BNSF, and Amtrak will enter into appropriate agreements setting forth our roles and responsibilities with respect to the project, with terms acceptable to Amtrak.”

Colfax County is the lead government entity that is seeking a federal TIGER grant to help fund rebuilding of the route of the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

More than two years ago BNSF said it would no longer maintain the route of the Chief in portions of Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico to 79 mph speeds because freight traffic on the route is light.

Former Amtrak President Joe Boardman said in an interview with Trains magazine that Amtrak’s current approach to matching the funds being put up by government entities to rebuild the route of the Southwest Chief differs from the company’s behavior when he was its head.

Amtrak’s demands for terms that it alone must approve was submitted with the Colfax County TIGER grant application.

Amtrak Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer William N. Feidt said the passenger carrier “strongly supports” the application as a continuation of improvements and that Amtrak will offer $3 million if the grant application is successful.

Two government entities have been awarded TIGER grants in recent years to pay to upgrade the route of the Chief in Kansas and Colorado.

Those grants to the city of Garden City, Kansas, and La Junta, Colorado, were matched by funds from BNSF, the states involved, Amtrak and other cities with an interest in seeing the Southwest Chief remain on its current route.

Amtrak is the primary user of the route between Hutchinson, Kansas, and a junction west of Lamy, New Mexico.

In his interview with Trains, Boardman said he and former BNSF Chairman Matt Rose agreed that completion of the track work would not hinge on knowing where all the money would eventually come from.

“It was logical that we would do this in pieces,” Boardman said. “Yes, we couldn’t complete everything with the piece of money [from the first grant], but we couldn’t spend that money on construction right away anyway. We had strong commitments from all of the cities along the way. For me, that was enough to just keep going [with subsequent grants] and now the communities have an expectation that the project will continue.”

Colfax County is seeking more than $17.5 million for the track work. Entities other than the federal government are projected to contribute $9.19 million toward the project, including $3 million from BNSF and $1 million apiece from the states of Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico as well as pledges from 17 communities in the three states

The American Association of Private Railcar Owners has pledged $10,000 while the Colorado Rail Passengers Association has agreed to contribute $1,000.

The most recent TIGER grant awarded to the project was $16 million, but that and other pledges funds leaves the $26.7 million project more than $1.5 million short.

It has not been determined if, as a result, officials will curtail the scope of the track rebuilding or seek larger matching contributions.

BNSF has reportedly “asked for a final Federal Railway Administration-approved budget in order to determine how much scope we need to reduce.”

The work to be done includes tie and rail replacement, rebuilding the roadbed at the Devils Throne fill area west of Lamy, and signal system improvements in New Mexico.

“One of the things I learned working on these kinds of things, is that if you fail to move when you have an opportunity to move, you’re probably going to fail to get this done,” Boardman told Trains.

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Ski Train Unaffected by Policy Change

March 30, 2018

A ski train in Colorado operated by Amtrak will not be affected by a recent policy decision to stop operating charter and special trains.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the change, which was revealed this week, doesn’t affect the Winter Park Express because that service is in the second year of a three-year contract.

Magliari said the announcement doesn’t affect the ski train and even if the train were to be halted after the contract expires it would be unaffected by this week’s policy change.

The ski train began operating in January 2017 after a previous service last operated in 2009.

Amtrak uses equipment for the ski train that has been removed from other trains after their consists shrink for the winter. The Winter Park Express operates between Denver Union Station and the Winter Park ski resort.

$16M Grant Released for S.W. Chief Route Track Work

March 7, 2018

The federal government has released a $16 million grant that will pay for track work on the route of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.

“This should finish off the rail repair between La Junta (Colorado) and Newton (Kansas) as well as the work in Raton Pass,” said Pueblo [Colorado] County Commissioner Sal Pace, who is chairman of the Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission.

The grant supplements more than $9 million pledged from communities served by the train in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico.

The project arose after track owner BNSF said it would decrease its maintenance of the line because it handles little freight traffic.

Pace said the multi-state coalition had earlier obtained grants of $21 million and $27 million.

“With this grant, we’re about 75 percent of the way toward the goal of needing $100 million in rail and route repairs,” he said.

The Southwest Chief runs daily between Chicago and Los Angeles.

In a related development, the Pueblo County Board of County Commissioners approved a resolution pledging $12,500 to match support from the latest grant to rebuild the route of the Chief.

The federal money is coming from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program.

Colfax County, New Mexico, submitted the $25 million grant application and 23 communities in three states have passed similar resolutions, totaling about $9.2 million

The Front Range Rail commission is seeking to get route the Chief through Pueblo or get a connecting train that would operate to La Junta.

Colorado Museum in Amtrak Depot to Close

November 21, 2017

A Colorado railroad museum housed in a depot that serves Amtrak will close next Monday.

The Glenwood Railroad Museum was unable to reach a lease agreement with the depot owner, the Union Pacific Railroad, in Glenwood Springs.

The museum’s five-year, $250-per-year lease expired at the end of 2016.

UP demanded the museum pay market-rate rent, which museum officials said would be more than $25,000 annually.

That would have eaten up the museum’s total income. “It’s just sad that we’re unable to raise the funding necessary to preserve what I think is a very important part of the history, the story of this county and this community,” said Pat Thrasher, museum manager and president of the Western Colorado Chapter of National Railway Society.

The museum plans to return to their donors some of the artifacts on display and is seeking to donate the remaining artifacts elsewhere.

Thrasher said museum officials considered relocating, but he thinks it is essential to be located adjacent to an active railroad depot.

“I would like to think we’re more than just a place where Amtrak passengers hang out while they’re waiting for a train,” he said.

The Glenwood museum had scheduled its hours around train times for Amtrak’s California Zephyr.

Lyft Becomes Amtrak Ski Train Sponsor

November 15, 2017

Ride sharing service Lyft has become a sponsor of Amtrak’s Winter Park Express ski train.

In a news release, Amtrak said Lyft is offering new customers an AMTRAKLYFT promo code for $5 off their first four rides.

Lyft will provide a larger vehicle for snow boards and skis as well as drop off and pick up passengers at Denver Union Station. The arrangement begins on Jan. 5.

The seasonal service begins Jan. 5, and operates every Saturday and Sunday through March 25, with additional service on Fridays on Jan. 5, Feb. 2, and March 2.

The train departs Denver at 7 a.m. and arrives at the Winter Park Resort at approximately 9 a.m. The return trip leaves Winter Park at 4:30 p.m., returning to Union Station at 6:40 p.m.

Also as part of the new partnership, three railcars will be wrapped in Lyft’s hot pink design and remain on display at Union Station during the week.

After the Winter Park Express season ends, the wrapped railcars will continue in service on other national Amtrak routes throughout the West and Midwest.

27 Ski Train Pairs to Operate in 2018

August 28, 2017

Amtrak will operate 27 trips of the Winter Park Express ski train next winter.

The service between Denver Union Station and the Winter Park ski resort west of Moffat Tunnel will begin on Jan. 5, 2018 and operate on Saturday and Sunday through March 25. Additional trips will run on Feb. 2 and March 2, both Fridays.

Tickets will cost as low as $29 for some trips. The Friday trips are designed to accommodate group travel.

With a capacity of 500, the ski train discharges and boards passengers at a platform adjacent to Winter Park’s slopeside village.

Visit amtrak.com/winterparkexpress for further information and to buy tickets.

SW Chief Commission Gets New Mandate

April 20, 2017

The Southwest Chief Commission in Colorado will study rail passenger service along the front range of the Rocky Mountains between Fort Collins and Trinidad.

The Colorado legislature recently passed legislation that it sent to Gov. John Hickenlooper that extends the life of the Commission, which was set to sunset on July 1.

The legislation also authorizes the Commission to continue exploring the expansion within the state of Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Colorado rail passenger advocates have long sought to extend operation of the Chief to Pueblo.

Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace, who pushed for the legislation, said that as Colorado’s population grows passenger rail is becoming necessary.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that Amtrak’s going to be OK,” said Jim Souby, president of the Colorado Rail Passenger Association. “Nobody knows quite how Congress is going to handle the budget this year. But I think it’s a big policy declaration by the state that we need to take passenger rail seriously. It passed the (Colorado legislature) with bipartisan support.”

The Southwest Chief Commission was created at a time when the future of the Southwest Chief was in doubt due to deteriorating track conditions.

The recently passed legislation will rename the Commission as the Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission.

The Commission will be directed to recommend a rail passenger plan by late 2017 to the legislature.

Amtrak, Winter Park Call Ski Train a Success

March 25, 2017

Winter Park, Colorado, officials have been pleased with the public response to the revived Denver ski train this year, noting that more than 18,000 tickets have been sold.

The train, operated by Amtrak, operated between January and the last weekend in March.

“It totally exceeded our expectations,” said Winter Park Resort spokesman Steve Hurlbert. “We’ve established that there’s a demand, and the potential for this is through the roof.”

Officials expect the train to return next year.

Many trips sold out and more than a quarter of the tickets were purchased months before service began.

“It was like selling water in the desert,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

With a capacity of 540 passengers, the train carried a small number of the visitors that Winter Park attracts on a given weekend.

But some say the ski train took about 500 vehicles off Interstate 70 every weekend that it ran.

Although ski trains were a staple of Winter Park since 1940 when development of the resort began, no ski trains operated between 2009 and this year.

Officials cited insurance costs and other obstacles for sidetracking the train.

Winter Park head Gary DeFrange worked for tirelessly to get the service re-established. This included a $3 million investment in a platform and siding to serve the train.

Magliari said Amtrak employee Brad Swartzelter approved DeFrange with a proposal for Amtrak to provide the service.

“Brad and his union know how important this train is,” Magliari said.

The resort and Amtrak officials are exploring additional sponsorship possibilities and plan to add food and beverage service aboard the train next year.

 

Ski Train Adds President’s Day Trip

February 16, 2017

Buoyed by sellouts every weekend since its startup, Amtrak has added an extra Winter Park Express ski train trip for President’s Day (Feb. 20).

coloradoSince starting on Jan. 7, the ski train has carried 15,000 passengers between Denver Union Station and the Winter Park ski resort in Colorado.

The ski train is scheduled to operate through the end of March. Tickets are $39 one way and $59 roundtrip.

Trains operate on Saturdays and Sundays and are a partnership among Amtrak, Winter Park Resort, the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Colorado Rail Passenger Association.

“The fact that there are 15,000 people who have done this, and we’re half-way through the season — the number is eye-popping,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari, noting that five of the first six Saturdays have sold out.

The ski train departs Denver at 7 a.m. and arrives in Winter Park between 8:30 and 9 a.m. It leaves the resort at 4:30 p.m. and arrives back in Denver at 6 p.m. It has a capacity of 500.

Winter Park officials said that the ski train has led to a boost in lodging reservations with many non-skiers using the train to visit the resort.

About 100 of the 500 passengers who arrive on Saturday trains are staying overnight in Winter Park.

Sponsors of the ski train include CenturyLink, Noosa Yoghurt, Clif Bar and Koelbel & Company, a  real estate company.

S.W. Chief Commission Looks to New Mission

February 2, 2017

Legislation has been introduced in the Colorado legislature to extend the life of the state commission that worked to save Amtrak’s Southwest Chief route through the southeast corner of the state.

coloradoThe legislation would expand the work of the Southwest Chief Commission to include a focus on reviving intercity rail passenger service along the Front Range from Fort Collins to Trinidad.

The latter is a city served by Chicago-Los Angeles Chief. Otherwise, the commission will cease to exist on July 1.

Sal Pace, a Pueblo County commissioner and chairman of the Southwest Chief Commission, said that with the Chief’s future no longer in doubt expanding the commission’s mission is “about the next step, the next phase.”

If approved, the legislation would revamp the commission to include the Front Range Passenger Rail Commission, which includes stakeholders from along the Front Range.

The commission would be given a mandate to propose a plan for border-to-border service by the end of 2017.

The legislation does not seek additional state funding for the commission’s work.

One of the bill’s promoters, State Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, said he expects resistance,“but what you have to realize as a state is we are looking at a doubling of the population in 30 or 40 years. What we need to do is find a way to have a reliable and affordable way to transport people.”

The Southwest Chief Commission bill has bipartisan support.

As for the train that gave the commission its name, work is still underway to reroute Amtrak Nos. 3 and 4 via Pueblo. Pace said Amtrak is receptive to that, but paying for it is a major challenge.

Pueblo officials believe that bringing Amtrak to their city could spur a redevelopment of the city’s train station in a manner similar to what has happened at Denver Union Station, which has become a downtown rail hub tied into a light rail system.