Posts Tagged ‘Federal TIGER grants’

Amtrak Still Dragging Feet on S.W. Chief Route Money

January 19, 2019

Officials along the route of the Southwest Chief say Amtrak foot dragging has hindered their ability to apply for additional federal grants to help pay for rebuilding the train’s route.

Amtrak earlier refused to release its matching share of a federal TIGER grant obtained by Colfax County, New Mexico to rehabilitate the line northern New Mexico.

That action also has also stalled work on the $21.5 million project to improve the track and signals there.

Amtrak has said it won’t release its matching funds until there is a comprehensive funding plan and firm financial commitments for an estimated $50 million for track and signal improvements in New Mexico. Amtrak’s match for the New Mexico TIGER grant is $3 million.

That prompted members of the Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico congressional delegations to push for and obtain a measure in a funding bill directing Amtrak to use $50 million of its current appropriation for the maintenance and safety improvements it claims the Chief’s route needs in New Mexico.

That action was also in response to an Amtrak plan to substitute bus service for rail service between Dodge City, Kansas, and Albuquerque.

Senators at an October hearing admonished Amtrak to maintain the Chief as is through the end of fiscal year 2019, which Amtrak has agreed to do.

However, Amtrak continues to withhold its TIGER grant the matching funds.

In a recent report to the La Junta, Colorado, city council, La Junta City Manager Rick Klein said BNSF, Amtrak, and various government entities in three states have invested more than $100 million toward rehabilitating the route of the Southwest Chief, which operates between Chicago and Los Angeles.

USDOT Awards $1.5B in BUILD Grants

January 18, 2019

Approximately $1.5 billion in transportation grants were announced this week by the U.S. Department of Transportation through its Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development program.

The grant money will be used to support rail, transit, road and port infrastructure projects.

BUILD is the successor to the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant program introduced in 2009 by the Obama Administration.

In a news release DOT said the amount of funding sought by applicants far exceeded the grant money available by $10.9 billion.

The agency received 851 eligible applicants from all 50 states, U.S. territories and the District of Columbia.

It awarded 91 projects in 49 states and the District of Columbia.

Sixty-six percent — or $977 million — went to projects that have a freight component. Non-highway freight projects received 20 percent of the total funds.

Amtrak to Match SW Chief Route Grant

January 12, 2019

The Rail Passengers Association reported this week that it has learned that Amtrak will provide matching funds for a federal grant to be used to install positive train control on a portion of the route of the Southwest Chief.

The $9.2 million CRISI grant was awarded to the departments of transportation of Kansas and Colorado in partnership with Amtrak and host railroad BNSF.

The grant money will pay for the design, installation, and testing of PTC on about 179 miles of the Chief’s route between Dodge City, Kansas, and Las Animas, Colorado.

The development appears to represent an about face by Amtrak, which had earlier refused to honor its agreement to provide $3 million in matching funds for a $16 million federal TIGER grant won by a New Mexico county for rebuilding the route of the Chief in that state.

The RPA said it doesn’t know the status of Amtrak’s matching funds for the TIGER grant but it continues to lobby the passenger carrier to honor its agreement.

The Southwest Chief operates daily between Chicago and Los Angeles.

Amtrak PTC Stance Endangers 8 Trains

August 28, 2018

An Amtrak official last week reiterated the carrier’s stance that it will not operate on rail lines lacking positive train control after Dec. 31.

The declaration was made by Senior Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer Stephen Gardner during a meeting in Raton, New Mexico, to discuss the future of the Southwest Chief.

Garnder also said the Amtrak board of directors has decreed that the policy will stand even in cases where a host railroad has been granted a PTC exemption by the Federal Railroad Administration.

That stance, if not reversed, would endanger eight Amtrak routes. Trains magazine reported on its website that those trains are:

  • Southwest Chief: Between La Junta, Colorado, and Dailies, New Mexico, and through Topeka, Kansas.
  • Cardinal:  Buckingham Branch Railroad between Orange and Clifton Forge, Virginia.
  • California Zephyr: On 152 miles of Union Pacific’s Green River subdivision west of Grand Junction, Colorado.
  • Texas Eagle: On 110 miles of UP’s Desoto subdivision south of St. Louis.
  • Downeaster: North of Haverhill, Massachusetts, to Brunswick, Maine., on Pan Am Railways
  • Vermonter: On the New England Central north of Springfield, Massachusetts.
  • Ethan Allen: On Vermont Railway east of Whitehall, New York.
  • City of New Orleans: On 18 miles of Canadian National in Memphis, Tennessee, and New Orleans

All Aboard Ohio reported that the Lake Shore Limited might also be in danger because it uses eight miles of CSX track between downtown Cleveland and Collinwood Yard that do not have PTC.

Amtrak and elected officials in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico have been locked in a battle over the Southwest Chief.

The elected officials are angry because Amtrak refuses to release its share of matching funds for a federal TIGER grant won by Colfax County, New Mexico, to rebuild the route used by the Chief in New Mexico.

Earlier TIGER grants have been used to rebuild the route of Nos. 3 and 4 in Colorado and Kansas.

Steve Cottrell, the assistant city manager of Garden City, Kansas, attended the meeting and said Gardner insisted that Amtrak “had no preconceived end game in mind.”

However , Gardner’s presentation included the proposed bus bridge between either Dodge City, Kansas, or La Junta, Colorado, and Albuquerque.

A draft schedule shows Nos. 3 and 4 originating and terminating in Dodge City, with the bus service connecting there.

The bus service in turn would connect with a Los Angeles-Albuquerque train.

Amtrak envisions the Chicago-Dodge City, and Albuquerque-Los Angeles trains each having two locomotives, two coaches, one coach-baggage car and a café car.

The passenger carrier estimates it will need to spend between $4 million and more than $13 million to establish layover and turning facilities in Dodge City and Albuquerque.

“I made the statement to him that it would have been a much more pleasant meeting had Amtrak sat down with the [Southwest Chief] Coalition, and state DOT’s prior to making such statements because we want to work out how to get the TIGER 9 [grant, the latest providing funding to maintain the Chief route] off the ground and get a commitment for their share of the money,” Cottrell told Trains.

“If it’s going to take working out another three- to five-year plan for the improvements, either to the railroad or start some phased installation of PTC, so be it, but to get blindsided by this bus bridge thing and then come in and say they have no preconceived idea just kind of set a negative tone to the meeting that shouldn’t have had to be that way,” he said.

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.

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.

Rochester Amtrak Station to be Named in Honor of Louise Slaughter

March 23, 2018

The new Amtrak station in Rochester, New York, will be named after the late U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter, who recently died from injuries suffered during a fall in her Washington home.

Amtrak said in a news release that Slaughter, 88, will be honored for her career in public service and commitment to leading several projects in northern New York, including the station’s development.

“To celebrate her legacy and impact on the station, city of Rochester, and state of New York, we are pleased to announce that we will be naming Rochester Station in her honor through a commemorative plaque at the station or other appropriate means,” said Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia.

Slaughter was instrumental in securing $15 million in TIGER funding to build the station, which opened in October 2017.

She was serving her 16th term in Congress when she died.The Rochester station served more than 127,000 last year.

It is served by Amtrak’s Empire Service, Lake Shore Limited and Maple Leaf trains.

$16M Grant Released for S.W. Chief Route Track Work

March 7, 2018

The federal government has released a $16 million grant that will pay for track work on the route of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.

“This should finish off the rail repair between La Junta (Colorado) and Newton (Kansas) as well as the work in Raton Pass,” said Pueblo [Colorado] County Commissioner Sal Pace, who is chairman of the Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission.

The grant supplements more than $9 million pledged from communities served by the train in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico.

The project arose after track owner BNSF said it would decrease its maintenance of the line because it handles little freight traffic.

Pace said the multi-state coalition had earlier obtained grants of $21 million and $27 million.

“With this grant, we’re about 75 percent of the way toward the goal of needing $100 million in rail and route repairs,” he said.

The Southwest Chief runs daily between Chicago and Los Angeles.

In a related development, the Pueblo County Board of County Commissioners approved a resolution pledging $12,500 to match support from the latest grant to rebuild the route of the Chief.

The federal money is coming from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program.

Colfax County, New Mexico, submitted the $25 million grant application and 23 communities in three states have passed similar resolutions, totaling about $9.2 million

The Front Range Rail commission is seeking to get route the Chief through Pueblo or get a connecting train that would operate to La Junta.

Colorado Board OKs Matching Funds for TIGER Bid

October 30, 2017

The Pueblo [Colorado] Board of County Commissions has approved a resolution pledging $12,500 in matching support toward a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant application.

The money, if awarded, would be used to repair tracks used by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.

A news report indicated that 23 communities in three states have passed similar resolutions or submitted letters of support to pledge matching funds totaling nearly $9.2 million.

The TIGER grant bid is being submitted by Colfax County New Mexico, and is seeking $25 million from the federal grant program.

Also pledging money have been The City of La Junta and Otero County, which have agreed to put up $12,500 each.

It is the fourth time communities served by Amtrak Nos. 3 and 4 have rallied matching support funds for a TIGER grant.

Officials have said that the latest grant bid would wrap up necessary repairs in Colorado to save the Southwest Chief, which carried 367,267 passengers in 2016.

The route of the Chicago-Los Angeles train needs more than $50 million in rail repairs to the BNSF tracks.

In a related development, the Front Range Rail Commission of Colordao is working on getting a through car that would travel between the Pueblo Union Depot and the city of La Junta, offering a daily connection from Pueblo to the Southwest Chief.