Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Southwest Chief’

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.

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Another Senator Describes Meeting With Anderson to Discuss the S.W. Chief as Unsatisfactory

June 30, 2018

Add U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) to the list of those who were not satisfied with the meeting they recently had with Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson pertaining to the future of the Southwest Chief.

It was during that meeting, which also included elected officials from Kansas, New Mexico and Colorado, that Amtrak unveiled its plans to operate charter buses in lieu of the train between Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Garden City, Kansas.

During his presentation, Anderson cited the high cost of installing positive train control on a portion of the Chief’s route as the justification for the bus service.

Anderson also mentioned the high costs of maintaining the route.

Moran, through, said he is not supportive of this position and will push Amtrak to provide an appropriate level of passenger service.

The meeting had come about because the congressional delegations from the three states had been dismayed by an Amtrak announcement that it would not provide $3 million as a matching grant to a federal TIGER grant obtained by Colfax County, New Mexico, to be used to rebuild the tracks used by the Chief in that state.

In a letter to public officials along the route Amtrak said he wanted to see a comprehensive funding plan to rebuild the entire route in western Kansas, southeast Colorado and northern New Mexico before committing the money.

Also attending the meeting were senators Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), Cory Gardner (R-Colorado), Michael Bennet (D-Colorado), Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) and Tom Udall (D-New Mexico).

Moran described the meeting as unsatisfactory and said the senators “wanted to make it clear that from our perspective they needed to keep their commitment. Nothing came from the meeting that said they were willing to do that. The result we were looking for did not occur.

“The end result of the meeting with Mr. Anderson and a bunch of his staff was certainly no suggestion that their mind had been changed,” Moran said. “Then the conversation devolved into a slide presentation and conversation by Mr. Anderson about the financial challenges of the system and systemic issues of the current Southwest Chief route.”

Amtrak contends that the cost of installing PTC on 219 miles of BNSF track of which the Chief is the sole user in Colorado and New Mexico would cost $55 million.

The carrier said it didn’t want to be involved in the installation of PTC on another section of tracks used by the Chief in New Mexico that are owned by commuter operator Rail Runner.

Moran said the actions that he is considering taking to pressure Amtrak include placing a hold on two nominations for the Amtrak board of directors and placing language in an appropriations bill that would require consultation with affected communities before Amtrak can make any changes to its “terms of service.”

Heinrich of New Mexico criticized Amtrak for not being upfront about its plans to institute the bus bridge.

Like Moran, Heinrich described the meeting with Anderson as unsatisfactory.

“The lack of transparency by Amtrak management about its changing position on the Southwest Chief is deeply troubling, particularly for a government-sponsored enterprise entrusted with an important public transportation mission,” Heinrich said. “We have a strong, bipartisan coalition working together to protect the Southwest Chief and we are going to do everything we can to ensure its continued success.”

In the meantime, Trains magazine reported that BNSF officials have said it remains committed to honoring its financial and maintenance commitment to the Chief’s route as soon as Amtrak honors its $3 million TIGER grant match.

“We stand ready to proceed with our match and the same arrangement — maintaining the line at a Class 4 (79 mph maximum speed) for 20 years once all the bolted rail is replaced — for this TIGER 9 grant as we have promised for the TIGER 6 and 7 grants,” said Rich Wessler, BNSF Railway’s Director of Passenger Operations,

Amtrak had matched TIGER funding provided for two previous projects to rebuild the route used by the Chief.

Some local officials who have championed saving the Chief now feel betrayed by Amtrak.

“Amtrak came to us years ago and asked us for help, and this is what we get?” said Rick Klein, city manager of La Junta, Colorado. “The only way rural America becomes flyover country is if Amtrak makes it. The U.S. is not a nation of coasts or sharply defined corridors. It’s one nation.”  Klein said he received personal assurances from BNSF assistant vice president D. J. Mitchell that BNSF will provide its share of funding once Amtrak hands over its funding share.

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.

 

Amtrak Plotting to Break up SW Chief

June 23, 2018

Amtrak has begun sharing with select public officials its plan to truncate operation of the Southwest Chief.

Trains magazine reported on Friday that Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson gave a presentation to lawmakers from Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico on June 19 during which he said Amtrak would no longer use the Raton Pass route.

Instead, the carrier plans to operate trains between Chicago and Dodge City, Kansas, or La Junta, Colorado; and between Los Angeles and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

A bus bridge will operate between Albuquerque and La Junta or Dodge City.

Anderson said Amtrak is the sole user of the line between Trinidad, Colorado, and Albuquerque.

He also sought to explain why Amtrak has refused thus far to provide $3 million to match a federal TIGER grant obtained by Colfax County, New Mexico, to rehabilitate the route of the Chicago-Los Angeles Chief in northern New Mexico.

Amtrak plans to share its plans for the Chief this summer with Congress and others. Trains reported that Amtrak plans to make the service changes because that is its prerogative.

Anderson presented information that heavily focused on the financial losses of the Chief using the fully allocated cost criteria.

He also said the five year capital costs to improve the route would range between $30 million and $50 million.

“This is the first time that a management team has ever come out against continuing services Amtrak currently provides; they are ready to take apart the long distance system,” former Amtrak president David Gunn told Trains.

The plans to truncate the Chief alsohave  drawn sharp criticism from former Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman.

“It’s dishonorable and dishonest,” ex-Amtrak president Joe Boardman told Trains.

Colorado Rail Passenger Association president Jim Souby, who viewed Anderson’s presentation, said that it avoided the issue of who is on the train and where they are going.

Anderson told Congress earlier this year that the carrier would not use route lacking positive train control and lack of PTC figured prominently in his presentation about the Chief.

Installing PTC on the Trinidad-Albuquerque segment is expected to cost $55 million.

Amtrak, BNSF to Implement PTC on Select Routes

June 12, 2018

Amtrak expected to implement positive control operations this week on trains using BNSF tracks, including the Southwest Chief and California Zephyr

It will be the first activation on host-owned territory used by Amtrak. BNSF and Amtrak expect full activation of PTC operations on BNSF routes that host these two trains to be completed by the end of August.

“This is a great step for Amtrak,” said BNSF Assistant Vice President Network Control Systems Chris Matthews. “We have the infrastructure in place that allows Amtrak to operate on our network. We have partnered with them on the federal mandate and in some cases beyond the federal mandate to install PTC on subdivisions not required of BNSF. We look forward to continuing that partnership as they roll-out PTC along our routes.”

As for its own physical plant, Amtrak said it is making progress toward installing and activating PTC.

To date Amtrak said it has installed PTC on 380 of 444 Amtrak-owned locomotives and that 86 percent of the motive power fleet is PTC operable.

Amtrak said 607 of its 900 routes miles has PTC in operation, 95 percent of employees who require training have completed it, and 104 of 120 radio towers have PTC full installed and equipped.

The passenger carrier said it is working with its host railroads on PTC implementation and expects nearly all of them to qualify for an alternative PTC implementation schedule as allowed under federal law.

A risk analysis study is being undertaken for operating on routes under an extension or under an FRA-approved exemption.

That study is expected to result in developing strategies for enhancing safety on a route-by-route basis.

Reiterating a position that Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson stated earlier, Amtrak said that on a very limited number of routes where a host railroad has not met the federal PTC deadline that Amtrak “will suspend service and may seek alternative modes of service until such routes come into compliance.”

Senators Prod Amtrak to Match Federal Grant

June 11, 2018

Two U.S. senators are trying to prod Amtrak into matching federal grant money obtained by a New Mexico county to be used to rebuild the route of the Southwest Chief.

Senators Tom Udal (D-New Mexico) and Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) offered an amendment to the 2019 Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations bill that would “strongly encourage Amtrak to consult with stakeholders before adding conditions to any grant funds.”

The amendment came in response to a letter Amtrak sent earlier this year to public officials along the Chief’s route saying Amtrak would not match the grant obtained by Colfax County until a comprehensive funding plan is in place to rebuild the route between western Kansas and northern New Mexico.

Amtrak has earlier said it would provide $3 million if Colfax County landed the $16 million TIGER grant.

“The Southwest Chief is an engine of economic growth in New Mexico that connects rural communities from Raton to Gallup,” Udall said in a statement.

“I was pleased when the Southwest Chief received its latest TIGER grant — federal funding that been a big help in making badly-needed improvements to ensure a strong and stable future for the Southwest Chief in New Mexico.

“But Amtrak is threatening to pull out the rug from the New Mexico communities that are undertaking these critical repairs. That’s why I fought to ensure New Mexico has access to the funding we need and continue to have a say as we work to keep the Southwest Chief chugging long into the future.”

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.

Fort Madison Eyes Grant Extension for Platform Project

May 30, 2018

Fort Madison, Iowa, may need to request an extension of time to use a state grant that it plans to use to build a new platform at the city’s Amtrak station.

The new platform would be built closer to downtown.

However, the city is a few months from a deadline to spend the grant money it received for the project and BNSF, which owns tracks served by the platform, has yet to approve the platform design.

City Manager David Varley said the $750,000 Iowa Department of Transportation grant may be lost if the extension to use it is not approved. The state grant constitutes more than half of the project’s funding.

“As soon as we get these approved plans turned in, we’ve got everything on our end worked out and ready to turn in,” Varley said. “We are still trying to shoot for a date at the end of the year.”

Fort Madison is served by Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief and averages 17 passengers a day. The city hopes that a more favorable location for the boarding site will increase ridership.

Amtrak Moves Trigger Anxiety on SW Chief Route

May 22, 2018

Some recent actions by Amtrak have triggered anxiety along the route of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.

Some fear that Amtrak is seeking to discontinue the Chicago-Los Angeles train.

The Pueblo Chieftan published a recent story that raised the prospect that a hoped-for section or reroute of the Chief to serve Pueblo will fall by the wayside due to changes in Amtrak policy.

La Junta, Colorado, city manager Rick Klein said Amtrak’s plans to close ticket offices along the train’s route has alarmed him.

La Junta is one of those stations losing its ticket agent along with Garden City and Topeka, Kansas, and Fort Madison, Iowa.

“We’ve been working to save the [Southwest Chief] for seven years, and now Amtrak is going in a different direction,” he said. “The Southwest Chief is vital across this region and northern New Mexico.”

Further causing anxiety was a letter sent to public officials along the route of the Chief stating Amtrak will not provide matching funds for a federal grant obtained by Colfax County, New Mexico, until a comprehensive plan is in place to fund the completion of the rebuilding of the train’s route.

Amtrak had earlier said it would provide $3 million for the track rehabilitation in northern New Mexico.

The letter renouncing the funds said the Southwest Chief only carried 364,000 passengers and ridership is declining.

Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace has led the efforts to extend the Chief to Pueblo and has been involved in the efforts to gain federal, state and local grant money to rebuild the route of Nos. 3 and 4 in western Kansas, southeast Colorado and northern New Mexico.

The chairman of the Southwest Chief and Front Range Rail Commission believes that Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson is hostile toward the Chief.

“It’s my understanding this change in direction is coming from Anderson,” Pace said. “Communities in Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico have secured $71 million in rail upgrades over the past four years along the route of the Chief, and now Amtrak is threatening to withhold its contribution. It’s one individual stepping in to unravel all this work.”

Amtrak declined to comment to the newspaper about the issue.

Former Amtrak President Joesph Boardman has asserted that Amtrak is seeking to torpedo the Chief and long-distance trains generally in favor of short-haul corridors, including the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington.

Writing in the trade publication Railway Age, Boardman contended that the battle for the future of long-distance passenger train is occurring in private and that the Southwest Chief will be the first western train to be targeted.

Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico lawmakers have been supporting the cooperative effort to protect and repair the Southwest Chief’s route across their states.

During a recent committee hearing, Colorado Senator Cory Gardner pressed Joseph Gruters, a nominee of President Donald Trump to the Amtrak board of directors, on Amtrak’s commitment to the matching grant toward rebuilding the Chief’s route.

“That grant was awarded and the announcement was made,” Gardner said during the hearing. “Colorado, Kansas and New Medico have made significant commitments to this. Do you believe in keeping that commitment?”

“If (Amtrak) made the commitment, they should do that,” Gruters said in response.

The Chief’s Way

May 16, 2018

Back in the early 2000s it was a common site to see a string of head-end cars on the rear of Amtrak trains.

They carried perishable produce, mail and any other time-sensitive cargo from shippers willing to pay Amtrak a premium rate.

Amtrak’s host railroads didn’t like it and said so. They saw Amtrak as trying to cut into their own freight business.

The Amtrak CEO at the time, George Warrington, said this revenue would be used to make Amtrak self-sufficient.

Shown is the eastbound Southwest Chief cruising through Riverside, Illinois, on May 20, 2004. No. 4 is 13 miles away from Chicago Union Station.

On the rear is a cut of refrigerator cars that were a mainstay on Nos. 3 and 4.

But not for long. Within a year Amtrak would have a new CEO, David Gunn, and he would discontinue the mail and express gambit.

The only head-end car the Chief carries today is a baggage car.