Posts Tagged ‘Saving the Southwest Chief’

Trinidad Failed to Land BUILD Grant for SW Chief Work

November 23, 2019

A bid by Trinidad, Colorado, for a federal BUILD grant to continue the rehabilitation of the BNSF route used by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief has fallen short.

Trinidad had sought $16 million for the Southwest Chief Route Improvement Project but that application was not approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which recently announced its most recent round of BUILD grants.

Various government entities in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico in recent years have won federal funding to rebuild the route used by the Chief.

It is not clear what the failure of Trinidad to land the grant will mean for the efforts to rehabilitate the route of the Chicago-Los Angeles train.

Several years ago BNSF said it wouldn’t maintain the route in the three states to passenger train speeds because it seldom uses most of it for freight service.

That prompted the 2014 creation of a campaign to save the Chief by landing a series of grants to repair the tracks.

In a related development, Colorado officials are seeking another federal grant to pay for a study of creating a section of the Chief to serve Pueblo and Colorado Springs.

The Southwest Chief currently stops in Colorado in Lamar, La Junta and Trinidad.

Pueblo officials have in recent years sought to have the route of Nos. 3 and 4 changed to serve their city. The Chief currently does not pass through Pueblo.

Pueblo and Colorado Springs have been without intercity rail passenger service since the Santa Fe discontinued a Denver-La Junta connecting train on May 1, 1971.

That train connected with Santa Fe’s Super Chief/El Capitan, which is the ancestor of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.

The plan to serve Colorado Springs would in effect reinstate that long ago discontinued connecting service.

That service is seen as part of a larger effort to restore intercity rail passenger along Colorado’s Front Range to as far north as Fort Collins.

The grant application indicates that Colorado section of the Southwest Chief would be designed to potentially connect to a Front Range passenger rail system in the future.

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 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.

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.

DOT Awards PTC Grant to SW Chief Route

December 21, 2018

The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded a $9.16 million grant to to help pay for installation of positive train control on the route used by the Amtrak’s Southwest Chief between Dodge City, Kansas, and Las Animas, Colorado.

The grant came through DOT’s Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Grant Program. It was sought by the Colorado and Kansas departments of transportation and Amtrak.

The two state DOTs and Amtrak will contributed a 20 percent match of $2.29 million to the federal government’s 80 percent contribution toward the PTC project’s cost.

PTC will be installed on 179 miles of the mostly single-track on the line which is part of the BNSF La Junta Subdivision.

Amtrak had indicated earlier this year that it would refuse to operate Nos. 3 and 4 between Dodge City and Albuquerque next year because the route lacks PTC.

Instead, Amtrak proposed putting through passengers on a bus between the two points, which drew the ire of Congress, state policy makers and passenger train advocates

Last October Amtrak said it would continue rail service as-is through the end of fiscal-year 2019 on Oct. 1, 2019.

SW Chief to Remain Intact for FY2019

October 5, 2018

The proposed 500-mile bus bridge for Amtrak’s Southwest Chief is on hold for at least another year.

During a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee this week Amtrak said it would continue to operate the Chicago-Los Angeles train as it is now through the end of fiscal year 2019, which began on Oct. 1.

Amtrak’s chief operating officer, Scot Naparstek, was noncommittal, though, when prodded by senators representing the states along the route who are seeking to get Amtrak to release $3 million it earlier pledged to use to rebuild tracks used by the train.

Colfax County, New Mexico, earlier won a $16 million federal TIGER grant for the track rebuilding.

“At this point we’re committed to work with the stakeholders and try to reach a conclusion,” Naparstek said.

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) said in news release that it is imperative for Amtrak to improve the route of the Chief.

“I reiterate the need for Amtrak to work with the communities impacted to create a real plan for the future of the Southwest Chief,” he said in a statement.

Amtrak has proposed replacing the train with bus service between Albuquerque and Dodge City, Kansas, saying the route lacks a positive train control system.

There would have still been rail service between Chicago and Dodge City, and between Los Angeles and Albuquerque.

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.

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.

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.

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