Posts Tagged ‘Colfax County New Mexico’

Work Progressing on Rebuilding SW Chief Route

March 15, 2019

Engineering work is underway for the latest phase of a project to upgrade the tracks used by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief in New Mexico.

This includes tie replacement between Springer and Las Vegas, New Mexico; addressing signal system issues; and rebuilding culverts in the Devils Throne area near Lamy, New Mexico, to mitigate damage from rock slides.

Once completed, the work will result in 29 miles of now jointed rail having been rebuilt to Federal Railroad Administration class 4 standards.

That will enable a top speed of 79 miles per hour. It will also leave 27 miles of jointed rail in western Kansas and southeastern Colorado still needing to be rebuilt.

Setting aside those 27 miles, the efforts to rebuild the route of the Chief covers 42 miles and includes welded rail on curves that BNSF track workers have already laid.

Much of the present construction is being funded by a $16 million federal TIGER grant landed by Colfax County, New Mexico, as well as funding provided by host railroad BNSF and local governments.

Amtrak until recently had been withholding $3 million it had earlier pledged to contribute to the work.

The passenger carrier had said it would not release the funds until a comprehensive funding program to finish improvements of the Chief’s route was completed.

However, Congress last month approved legislation directing Amtrak to spend $50 million on the route.

Officials along the Chief’s route will now turn to finding a city sponsor to seek a Consolidated Rail Infrastructure Safety and Improvement or a Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development grant in the next budget cycle.

Some cities that might consider doing that include Dodge City and Garden City in Kansas, and Lamar, Colorado.

An earlier $9 million federal CRISI grant will be used to install positive train control between Dodge City and Las Animas, Colorado.

“The combined grants and matches have already generated more than $100 million for Southwest Chief route improvements. We’re not about to stop now,” said La Junta city manager Rick Klein.

Noting that the Chief improvement project was a priority of the late Joseph Boardman, who served as president of Amtrak between 2008 and 2016, Klein said we owe it to him to finish the job.”

Amtrak Agrees to Match Chief Route Rebuilding Funds

March 3, 2019

After months of food dragging Amtrak has finally agreed to provide a $3 million funding match for a federal grant to be used to upgrade tracks used by the Southwest Chief in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico.

The announcement came in the wake of passage of the budget for transportation agencies, including Congress for fiscal year 2019.

That legislation allocated $50 million for Amtrak’s national network grant for improvements to the Southwest Chief route.

Amtrak’s $3 million will a $16 million grant awarded to Colfax County, New Mexico.

In a news release, Amtrak said that is has spent more than $26 million since 2011 to rebuild the route of the Chicago-Los Angeles Chief.

Thus far more than $80 million has been committed from U.S. Department of Transportation programs, state and local governments, Amtrak and host railroad BNSF.

Amtrak also said it is working to create a long-term financial plan to address the route’s “unique challenges.”

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.

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.