Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Southwest Chief’

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.

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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.

Lamy Ticket Office Now Closed

August 13, 2018

Another Amtrak ticket office has closed. On Aug. 3 Amtrak pulled its agents from Lamy, New Mexico, on the route of the Southwest Chief.

The closing of the Lamy office had been announced earlier and set for July 31, but the closing was moved back a few days.

In a service advisory Amtrak said passengers for Nos. 3 and 4 will continue to have access to the station waiting area and restrooms for all train arrivals and departures.

The station is open daily from noon to 3 p.m. Amtrak personnel on the train will assist customers boarding and detraining but unaccompanied minors will not be allowed to board at this station.

Ticket options include buying with a credit card from Amtrak reservations or at the Amtrak website. Passengers paying cash can pay for tickets on the train but such tickets will be priced at the highest fare and subject to availability.

Checked baggage is no longer handled at Lamy. Nearest full-service station is in Albuquerque, about an hour southwest of Lamy.

Senate OKs Funding for Passenger Rail, Seeks to Keep S.W. Chief Intact

August 3, 2018

The U.S. Senate has approved on a 92-6 vote $16.1 billion for billion for public transit and intercity passenger rail while also seeking to preserve Amtrak’s national network.

The legislation provides $2.5 billion for intercity passenger rail grants, which are $1.3 billion more than authorized by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act for Fiscal Year 2019.

The funding is contained within the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2019.

The bill also funds the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants program at $2.5 billion, marking a $92 million decrease from FY18, according to a statement issued by nonprofit advocacy group Transportation for America.

The legislation allocates $1 billion for the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development grants program.

The bill also specifically directs the U.S. Department of Transportation to administer the program as it was under 2016 in response to attempted changes that would have added “greater financial and administrative burdens on local communities.”

As for Amtrak’s national network, the Senate approved an amendment by senators Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) to provide $50 million to maintain the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

The amendment would provide the resources needed for maintenance and safety improvements along the route as well as “effectively reverse” Amtrak’s plans decision to substitute buses for rail service between Albuquerque and western Kansas.

It is designed to compel Amtrak to fulfill its promise of providing matching funds for the grant won by Colfax County, New Mexico, to rebuild the route.

S.W. Chief Travel Time Being Cut

August 1, 2018

Even as a fight is going on about the future of Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief, the passenger carrier is decreasing the travel times of Nos. 3 and 4.

Starting July 31, No. 4 will depart Los Angeles 10 minutes earlier at 6 p.m. and arriving earlier in Chicago.

No. 3 will depart Chicago 10 minutes earlier at 2:50 p.m. and arrive earlier in Los Angeles.

Amtrak has yet to post the new schedules on its website.

In a passenger advisory, Amtrak said the faster travel time was made possible by increased speeds in Kansas and Colorado.

 

Senate Prodding Amtrak on S.W. Chief Route

July 30, 2018

The U.S. Senate is turning up the heat on Amtrak to save the Southwest Chief in its current form.

The Senate approved by a 95-4 vote a “sense of Congress” amendment to a fiscal 2019 transportation funding bill that urges Amtrak to maintain its national route system.

Another group of 10 senators wrote to Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson to demand that the carrier make good on an earlier agreement to provide a $3 million match to an already-approved $16 million federal Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery grant to Colfax County, New Mexico, that is to be used to rebuild the tracks used by the Chief.

The letter suggests that Amtrak also apply for capital funding to rebuild the route that could come from the $318 million Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement program.

“Replacing train service through rural communities with buses is troubling, particularly for a quasi-governmental entity entrusted with an important public transportation mission,” the letter said. “The suspension of service along the Southwest Chief route raises serious questions as to whether passenger rail service will be eliminated in rural communities across the country. The connectivity is vital to the people and communities” because it is “the only affordable alternative to highways for many of our citizens and is a critical link to public and private services in larger cities along the route for rural residents.”

The letter came in response to a meeting Anderson held with members of the congressional delegations of several states served by the Chief in which he said Amtrak is considering moving passenger by bus between Albuquerque and western Kansas.

Anderson said Amtrak can’t afford to use a portion of a BNSF route of which it is the sole user and which does not have positive train control.

The letter to Anderson called for him to take “prompt attention to this matter,” but did not say what would occur if Amtrak follows through on its bus bridge idea.

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.

RPA Launches S.W. Chief Campaign

July 25, 2018

The Rail Passengers Association is launching a campaign to seek to pressure Amtrak into keeping the Southwest Chief intact.

The campaign comes in the wake of news that Amtrak is planning to bus passengers rather than transport them by rail between western Kansas and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

RPA noted that the bus bridge would affect nine stations, leave a 500-mile gap in Amtrak’s rail network and take 7.5 hours to traverse point to point.

The rail passenger advocacy group argues that as much as 70 percent of the Chief’s revenue will be lost.

However, RPA sees the battle to save the Chief as part of a larger effort to save Amtrak’s national network generally.

“The campaign is policy-based and will enable members to make their individual and collective voices heard,” RPA wrote on its website. “Raising awareness in traditional and social media, we’ll generate a firestorm of support for the Southwest Chief and the National Network and show Congress and Amtrak leadership just what losing train service would mean to real Americans.

As part of the campaign, RPA plans to reach out to U.S. senators,mayors, allies, friends and supporters of rail passenger service.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that this is a critical junction concerning the fate of the National Network. Whether it is the federal budget that makes Amtrak possible, or this very new threat to a part of the system, we have to take action. We appreciate your full support as we move forward with our efforts to protect the Southwest Chief and preserve the National Network,” RPA wrote.

More information about the campaign is available at www.railpassengers.org/swc

New Check-in Procedure in Albuquerque

July 24, 2018

Amtrak has instituted a new check-in and seat assignment process for coach passengers boarding the Southwest Chief in Albuquerque.

There is now a reception desk, located next to the exit door to the platform for coach passengers to check in and receive a seat assignment.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said coach passengers are being directed to have at least one member of their party wait at the reception desk for train arrival.

An Amtrak employee will assign seats based on the train’s availability upon arrival.

Passengers who are on the platform with no boarding pass will be directed back to the station reception desk to receive their assignments.

Sleeping car passengers, as well as anyone seeing off or greeting passengers, will go directly to the platform.

La Junta Ticket Window Operation Curtailed

July 11, 2018

Although the ticket agent remains, the ticket window hours of operation in La Junta, Colorado, have been restricted.

Effective July 9, Amtrak reduced the operation of the ticket office at the station served by the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

However, Amtrak said there may be times during this time frame when no agent is on duty.

Checked baggage service is no longer available at La Junata. The new hours are:

  • Monday through Wednesday: 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
  • Thursday through Friday: 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

The ticket office will be closed on Saturdays and Sundays.

Passengers will have access to the station waiting area and restrooms for all train arrivals and departures. The La Junta station is open daily between 7 a.m. and 8:30 p.m.

The changes mean that Amtrak personnel on the train will assist customers boarding and detraining when the agent is not on duty and unaccompanied minors will not be allowed to board at this station.