Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Southwest Chief’

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.

Fort Madison Station Upgrades Put on Hold

April 19, 2017

Officials in Fort Madison, Iowa, say that plans for Amtrak to use a different station are on hold.

“We can’t spend tax money on this or the funds we have unless we have a good assurance that it’s going to [go] forward and stay in,” said City Manager David Varley.

He was referring to the lack of a state budget in Iowa and federal budget cuts proposed by the Trump administration that would end all funding for Amtrak long-distance trains.

Fort Madison will pony up 25 percent of the $1.2 million needed to upgrade the Santa Fe Depot for Amtrak’s use.

“We are going to do what we can on our part but at the same time we have to be responsible,” Varley said.

Fort Madison is the only stop in Iowa for Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Generations of Motive Power

February 20, 2017

southwest-chief-at-naperville-on-september-1-1996

Amtrak train No. 4 is departing from the station in Naperville, Illinois, and is about to cross over to the center track for the run into Chicago.

I made this image of the motive power consist because I found it interesting how there are three distinct locomotives represented.

On the point is a P40DC locomotive with the fading stripes that are original to those units, but which proved to be short lived on Amtrak.

In the middle is a P32-8 wearing its striking and original livery that proved to be unique to these locomotives.

And the third unit is an F40PH in the Phase III livery. At the time, F40s were still commonplace, but starting to fade from the roster.

Lawrence May Take Ownership of Amtrak Station

February 14, 2017

The City of Lawrence, Kansas, is taking steps that may result in its purchase of the town’s Amtrak station.

Lawrence may acquire the former Santa Fe station from BNSF and then launch a $1.5 million restoration project.

Amtrak Southwest Chief 2City officials have said the depot has received limited maintenance and if the city buys the station it could use a $1.2 million state grant to pay for the renovations.

It would not cost the city anything to take ownership of the station, which the city would then lease to Amtrak.

The national passenger carrier would then be able to providing funding to bring the station into compliance with the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Although no time frame has been established, the city could take control of the depot this summer.

Lawrence is on the route of the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Emporia Wants to Be S.W. Chief Stop Again

February 2, 2017

A Kansas community that lost Amtrak service in 1997 is seeking to get it back.

Emporia, Kansas, was a stop for the Chicago-Houston Lone Star until that train ended in October 1979 and then for the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Amtrak Southwest Chief 2Now Emporia officials are working to lure Amtrak back, saying they have the support to get that done.

Andrew McHenry, the pastor at the First Congregational Church and a rail passenger advocate, said re-establishing the Amtrak stop would benefit the city’s tourism efforts as well as Emporia State University.

He said that Amtrak for the past five years has shown interest in stopping again in Emporia.

An ad hoc task force formed in 2011 has been studying how to bring Amtrak back, but it believes that a city committee needs to take on that responsibility.

McHenry said the goal of the task force has been to establish a station in downtown Emporia, but the depot may have to go be located in Whittier Park because of lower BNSF traffic on the line to Topeka.

The Emporia task force has also been pushing for an extension of the Heartland Flyer from Oklahoma City northward into Kansas, possibly as far as Kansas City. The southern terminal of the Flyer is Fort Worth, Texas.

McHenry said having the Southwest Chief serve Emporia would be good as standalone service or as a possible precursor to the extension of the Flyer.

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.

SW Chief to Benefit from BNSF Track Work in Kansas

January 26, 2017

Amtrak’s Southwest Chief will benefit from planned capital expenditures planned for its route in Kansas in 2017

Amtrak Southwest Chief 2BNSF said it will spend $125 million in the Sunflower State, most of it on rails used by the Chicago-Los Angeles train.

BNSF spokesman Andy Williams said the work will include replacing ties, laying new rail and adding ballast.

The work will be undertaken between Emporia and Topeka, and between Newton and Garden City.

Earlier track work done in western Kansas was instrumental in helping to keep the Chief on its present route. That work was funded largely with federal TIGER grants.

City Manager Says New Amtrak Station Platform in Fort Madison May be Completed This Year

January 18, 2017

Amtrak is waiting on Federal Railroad Administration approval of a new platform reconstruction project in Fort Madison, Iowa.

Amtrak 4City officials said that although the project was projected to go out for bids in April, that is now more likely to occur in May or June. Construction is expected to take six to eight months.

The project will move the Amtrak stop for the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief to the former Santa Fe passenger station, which has recently been rehabilitated.

Fort Madison City manager David Varley said once the FRA signs off on the project the platform plans will be reviewed by BNSF, which owns the station site.

“The final construction plans have been submitted,” Varley said.

Once BNSF reviews the platform plans, they will be passed on to the Iowa Department of Transportation for its review. “IDOT will be the group that will be bidding out the project,” Varley said.

Also, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must issue a 404 permit because the Amtrak platform will be located in a flood plain.

“We are working on getting that permit, which is required,” Varley said. “We are trying to tie up some of the final paperwork and review of the final plans approved, and once that all gets together, we will get a definitive date as to when it will go on a schedule as to when it will go to be bid out.”

And then the Fort Madison City Council will need to approve the plans.

“We need to clarify what the duties and responsibilities of both parties are,” Varley said. “These have to be approved by both parties before the project goes out to bid and before construction starts.”

Despite having a lot of hoops to jump through, Varley does not expect any problems to crop up that will keep the platform from being built.

City of Lawrence Expects to Close Purchase of Amtrak Station From BNSF by Next Spring

November 21, 2016

Lawrence, Kansas, officials expect to close on purchasing the city’s Amtrak station sometime next spring.

Amtrak Southwest Chief 2The station, which was built by the Santa Fe in the 1950s, will restored with the help of a $1.2 million grant that the city received more than three years ago.

“We are excited that this project will soon be moving forward as it has been long awaited by many,” said Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard.

Stoddard said the station has suffered from benign neglect but the city has been unable to do anything about it because it doesn’t own it.

The city had hoped to buy the depot in 2014, but the transaction with owner BNSF has taken longer than expected.

“The transaction is fairly complex because we have three different parties that are involved, and the whole transaction is subject to getting Amtrak’s OK on everything,” Stoddard said.

BNSF said it is now ready to review the sale proposal while Amtrak is reviewing the proposed lease agreement.

The expected renovations will include a new roof, exterior maintenance and energy-efficient updates, including a solar and a geothermal system. The station will also be made ADA compliant.

Lawrence is served by the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Hearing Examines Heartland Flyer Operation

October 31, 2016

Some Oklahoma officials are raising questions about why their state pays more to fund the Heartland Flyer than does Texas.

Heartland FlyerThose questions were explored during a meeting of the Oklahoma Senate Transportation Committee last week in Norman, Oklahoma.

Oklahoma Senator Frank Simpson asked for a study, noting that at one time the two states split the costs of the Flyer 50-50.

But now, Simpson noted, the split is closer to 60-40 and Oklahoma cities have invested millions of dollars in infrastructure investments to their stations. Simpson believes that Texas may be receiving economic benefits for which it does not pay.

He also believes that the schedule of the Oklahoma City-Fort Worth, Texas, train favors the Lone Star state.

“The daily schedule really favors Texas—it’s more convenient for riders traveling south than it is for those coming north,” Simpson said. “I’m also concerned that the contract only runs a year at a time. I think when we have cities in Oklahoma making major investments a longer term contract would be tremendously helpful.”

The Heartland Flyer is scheduled to connect in Fort Worth with the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

Testimony introduced during the hearing indicated that the preliminary findings of a feasibility study to extend the Heartland Flyer to Newton, Kansas, to connect with the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief, indicates that ridership of the Flyer might more than double.

Simpson called for a longer-term contract with Texas and a schedule that is more advantageous for Oklahoma.

“Oklahoma City is investing close to $30 million. My small community of Ardmore is going to make an investment of almost $2 million. I want to make sure they have a sense of security in doing that. That would come with a long-term contract, five or 10 years out,” Simpson said. “The long-term agreement question was not answered, but that’s something I’ve got to pursue with ODOT and probably with Texas.”

The committee also heard that Amtrak may establish a stop for the Flyer in Thackerville, Oklahoma, which is near the Chickasaw Nation’s WinStar World Casino and Resort.