Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak in New Mexico’

N.M. Agency Gets PTC Grant From FRA

August 27, 2018

The Federal Railroad Administration has awarded a $30 million grant to the Rio Metro Regional Transit District to be used to install positive train control.

The agency operates the New Mexico Rail Runner Express over 96 miles that line the cities of Belen, Albuquerque, Los Lunas and Santa Fe.

Amtrak’s Southwest Chief uses a portion of this route network.

Officials said without the funding, rail passenger service would likely have ended because the agency lacks the money to final installing PTC equipment.

Lack of PTC has been one of the reasons given by Amtrak for its idea to operate a bus service between Albuquerque and Dodge City, Kansas, in lieu of a train.

The U.S. Senate has approved $2.5 billion for intercity passenger rail service in the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2019, and directed Amtrak to preserve service on the Southwest Chief corridor.

N.M. Senators Vows to Continue Fight for S.W. Chief

August 23, 2018

A New Mexico U.S. senator has vowed to continue to fight Amtrak’s purported plans to sever the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Although Amtrak says it has not yet made a decision on the future of the Southwest Chief,  Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) said he will continue to keep the Chief intact.

“I’m proud to stand with the community and continue the fight to save the Southwest Chief,”  Heinrich said at a political rally. “The Southwest Chief isn’t just a railroad route in New Mexico, it is a vital part of who we are and connects places like Raton and Las Vegas to the rest of the nation. The route transports thousands of Boy Scouts from across the country to Philmont Scout Ranch near Cimarron every summer, generating economic activity for businesses in rural areas along the way. Any effort to undermine the route will go against the will of the people who rely on the Southwest Chief.

Heinrich and senators from New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas have been critical of a review of the trains performance that Amtrak said is losing more than $50 million a year.

They supported and the Senate adopted a $50 million appropriation directing Amtrak to maintain the route.

Flooding Disrupts S.W. Chief in New Mexico

July 30, 2018

Flooding caused by heavy rain washed out tracks used by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief in New Mexico last weekend.

The flooding also disrupted operations of the RailRunner Express commuter trains serving Albuquerque.

Both railroads operated bus bridges with commuters riding buses between Bernalillo and Santa Fe while Southwest Chief rode between Albuquerque and Lamy.

The storms dumped 1.24 inches of rain, causing the washout on San Felipe Pueblo near a bridge at milepost 874.

The flooding caused misaligned rails, roadbed erosion and left debris on the tracks for nearly a mile.

N.M. Senator Rips Plans for S.W. Chief

June 23, 2018

A New Mexico lawmaker has blasted Amtrak’s proposals to truncate the Southwest Chief and described a meeting held with Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson to discuss the Chief as having been unproductive.

“I think this was one of the most unproductive meetings with an agency level official that I’ve ever experienced,” said U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich. “To learn that not only are they planning to pull back their commitment to the TIGER grant, but that they’re going to abandon the route I think is just outrageous.”

Anderson recently met with the congressional delegation from New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas to describe a proposal to operate the Chicago-Los Angeles train between Los Angeles and Albuquerque, New Mexico; and between Chicago and Dodge City, Kansas, or La Junta, Colorado.

Passengers would be transported on charter buses between Albuquerque and La Junta/Dodge City.

The meeting with Anderson had been requested by members of Congress after word got out about Amtrak’s plans.

Anderson told the lawmakers that the signals and track between Raton Pass and Lamy, New Mexico, are outdated.

Rebuilding those is the purpose of U.S. Department of Transportation TIGER grant that was won by Colfax County, New Mexico.

But Amtrak has said it won’t provide its $3 million match to the grant without a “comprehensive plan from other stakeholders.”

Amtrak contends that passengers will still be able to travel to rail between Chicago and Los Angeles and to all intermediate points, but part of their journey may be on a bus.

Heinrich said the fight over the Chief is far from over.

“There are very active conversations going on right now to figure out what our appropriations strategy is and to push back forcibly and vigorously,” he said. “We’ve had to fight for the Southwest Chief before and we will fight for the Southwest Chief again.”

In a statement, Amtrak  said that it is considering “various service options for the Southwest Chief in response to the significant host railroad costs facing Amtrak for continued use of the middle portion of the route between Dodge City and Albuquerque.”

The statement cited significant costs that Amtrak faces to rebuild the track, which is owned by BNSF but used only by Amtrak in some places.

It also said Amtrak wants to continue providing transportation to all communities served by the route.

“Amtrak is thoroughly analyzing the route and considering the appropriate strategies for enhancing safety for operations after the December 2018 federal deadline for Positive Train Control,” the statement said.

See an earlier related post below on this subject.

 

Legislators Want to Discuss S.W. Chief With Anderson

June 2, 2018

Legislators representing states served by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief are asking the passenger carrier to provide its $3 million in matching funds to be used to repair the tracks used by the train.

Their response came after Amtrak wrote to public officials saying it would not providing the matching funds until a comprehensive funding plan is in place to finish rebuilding the tracks on the route.

Governmental units in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico have sought and landed money in recent years from the U.S. Department of Transportation TIGER grant program that is being used to rebuild the BNSF route.

Amtrak and BNSF agreed to provide matching funds. The latest issue arose after Colfax County, New Mexico, obtained TIGER funds that Amtrak has thus far failed to match.

The money obtained by Colfax County is to be used to renovate the tracks in New Mexico.

“The Southwest Chief is vital to the economic well-being of our communities,” said a letter sent to Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson by the elected officials. “In many cases, the line is the only affordable alternative transportation option to the highways for our citizens, and is an important link to public and private services along the route for rural residents, including the elderly and disabled.”

The letter was signed by U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrick (D-New Mexico), Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), Michael F. Bennet (D-Colorado), Cory Gardner (R-Colorado), Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) and Jerry Moran (R-Kansas. Also signing were U.S. Reps. Steve Pearce (R-New Mexico), Ben Ray Lujan (D-New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-New Mexico, Jared Polis (D-Colorado) and Lynn Jenkins (R-Kansas)

The letter contends that Amtrak earlier agreed to provide matching funding for the route rebuilding.

The legislators are also seeking a meeting with Anderson to discuss issues related to the Chief.

“The lack of transparency by Amtrak management about its changing position on the Southwest Chief is troubling, particularly for a government-sponsored enterprise entrusted with an important public transportation mission,” the letter said. “We request Amtrak take the lead in developing cooperate plans to ensure the Southwest Chief’s successful operation, including seeking funds from the various federal grant programs established to address these specific issues.”

The dispute was further cast into a spotlight when former Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman issued a statement accusing Amtrak of taking actions to justify discontinue the train, which operates between Chicago and Los Angeles.

Boardman said the Chief would be the first of other long-distance discontinues to come.

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.

TIGER Grant Sought for SW Chief Route Upgrades

October 11, 2017

Officials in Colfax County in New Mexico are seeking a TIGER grant to upgrade the tracks used by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.

If awarded, it would be the third federal grant used to improve the tracks, which are owned by BNSF.

Four state departments of transportation have pledged $1 million each while Amtrak and BNSF have each pledged $3 million in matching funds. Some local governments have also pledged matching funds.

The $25 million project will rebuild tracks within New Mexico. Previous TIGER grants of $25 million and $12 million were used for track work in Kansas and Colorado.

Southwest Chief Subject to Delay Due to Track Work

June 29, 2017

Track work being performed between Albuquerque and Lamy, New Mexico, is expected to delay Amtrak’s Southwest Chief through July 22.

In a service advisory, Amtrak No 3 may encounter delays of up to 2.5 hours at all stations west of Lamy while No. 4 may encounter delays of up to two hours east of Albuquerque.

The service advisory said that alternative transportation may be provided to passengers missing connections to Amtrak trains and Thruway buses at Kansas City, Chicago and Los Angeles.

In Position as Required by Rule

December 17, 2016
sw-limited-novemer-1-1981

The rear brakeman of Amtrak No. 4 stands watch in Lamy, New Mexico, on Nov. 1, 1981.

Amtrak’s eastbound Southwest Limited is making its station stop in Lamy, New Mexico, and the Santa Fe rear brakeman watches the boarding process from toward the rear of the train.

The two Superliner sleepers assigned to No. 4 today are on the rear end. I got to talking with this crew member during my journey, which began the night before in Los Angeles and would end early the next morning in Kansas City. Before he went off duty, he handed me the train bulletin for that day.

I made this image from the vestibule of the sleeper in which I had a room.