Posts Tagged ‘Saving the Southwest Chief’

$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.

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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.

Colorado Official Wins Amtrak Award for His Work to Preserve Existing Route of Southwest Chief

September 14, 2016

A Colorado public official has received recognition from Amtrak for his efforts to save the Southwest Chief.

Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace will receive the 2016 President’s Service and Safety Award in the Amtrak Champion category.

Amtrak Southwest Chief 2Former Amtrak President and CEO Joseph H. Boardman wrote to Pace last month about his winning the award for his work to keep the Chicago-Los Angeles train on its existing route through southeast Colorado.

Boardman said Pace’s support was helpful in the project to save the Chief receiving a Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery grant that was used to rebuild the decaying BNSF tracks used by the train.

“It was a pleasant surprise to be recognized,” Pace said. “It’s the highest recognition for the support of passenger trains in the U.S. Obviously I didn’t earn it myself. There’s other folks in Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico who have been working hard on the Southwest Chief.

“It’s evident that when a dedicated group works together it can get anything accomplished.”

Although Pace was scheduled to receive his award on Sept. 23 in Washington, he will instead be speaking on that day at the behest of Amtrak at a conference in Cincinnati.

That conference will address route issues facing Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Cardinal. “They are facing similar issues that the Chief was facing a few years ago,” Pace said.

“I will speak about our coalition and the work we’ve done here in Colorado. Also protecting the Chief and what we have done to enhance it with a stop in Pueblo.”

Pace said he continues to work to have the Chief rerouted via Pueblo.

Boardman Tours Rebuilt S.W. Chief Route

August 11, 2016

As part of what has been billed as a farewell excursion, Amtrak President Joe Boardman recently toured the route of the Southwest Chief and recognized local officials for landing federal money that was used to rebuild the tracks used by the train in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico.

BNSF owns the former Santa Fe tracks used by the Chicago-Los Angeles train but has little freight traffic on it.

Amtrak logoBack in 2012, BNSF said that it would no longer maintain the route to support passenger train speeds, which raised questions about the future of the Southwest Chief.

The cities of Garden City, Kansas, and La Junta, Colorado, in response sought and won federal TIGER grant funding totaling $27.6 million that was used to begin a track rehabilitation project.

“Since my service as Amtrak CEO began in 2008, Amtrak and BNSF have worked together to match federal grants with investments from both of our railroads, states and towns,” Boardman said.

The first of those grants was $12.4 million awarded to Garden City. It was combined with $9.3 million of private, local and state funding to renovate nearly 47 of the 158 miles of bolted rail sections between Pierceville, Kansas, and Las Animas, Colorado, to Federal Railroad Administration Class 4 condition.

That work enabled Amtrak Nos. 3 and 4 to operate at up to 79 mph. The project involved installing continuous welded rail and creating new grade crossings and turnouts.

A year later La Junta received a grant of $15.2 million that was used to rebuild the track on the La Junta Subdivision in Colorado and on 20 miles of the Albuquerque Subdivision. That project involved 39 miles of new continuously welded rail and ballast.

BNSF Executive Chairman Matt Rose, Interim Kansas Transportation Secretary Richard Carlson and mayors and state transportation officials rode with Boardman over portions of the route of the Southwest Chief.

The project also received $8 million from Amtrak and $4 million from BNSF.

Boardman also lauded the leadership and problem-solving strategies used to save the Southwest Chief.

Officials said more grant funding will be needed for future track rehabilitation on Raton Pass on other sections of track near Lamy, New Mexico.

Boardman Says S.W. Chief to Stay

August 5, 2016

Amtrak President Joseph Boardman said this week that the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief will continue to operate on its present route for the foreseeable future.

Amtrak Southwest Chief 2Boardman, who will step down as Amtrak president in late September, traveled the route of the Chief this week.

He noted that the train had been saved with the help of public funding, including $27.6 million in federal TIGER grant funding after BNSF threatened to lower the speed limit on the route as it downgraded its maintenance program due to low freight traffic.

Until a track rebuilding project began, the condition of the route had been deteriorating.

Some funding was provided by Amtrak ($8 million) and BNSF ($4 million). The funding paid for new rail and ties.

Another TIGER Grant Sought to Continue Rebuilding of BNSF Tracks Used by S.W. Chief

May 6, 2016

Lamar, Colorado, is seeking a $30 million TIGER grant to be used to fund track renovation of the route of Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

This money would be used to lay 60 miles of new track and complete a rebuilding of the BNSF La Junta Subdivision in Kansas and Colorado.

Amtrak Southwest Chief 2Some of the money would also be used to rebuild tracks owned by the state of New Mexico in Santa Fe County.

The work would involve replacement of bolted rail with continuous welded rail that will enable the Chief to travel at a top speed of 79 mph.

Aging semaphore and searchlight block signals would be replaced with modern signals and the signal pole line would be removed along 22.5 miles of track owned by New Mexico on the BNSF Albuquerque Subdivision.

Switches will also be upgraded, which officials said will better facilitate meets between Amtrak Nos. 3 and 4.

The work is expected also to result in a better ride quality.

The grant would be combined with $10 million of non-federal matching funds for a total project cost of $41 million.

In a related development, Pueblo County, Colorado, has joined 23 communities pledging grant-matching funds in support of the city of Lamar’s TIGER grant application.

The Pueblo County commissioners this week approved a local match of $12,500, making it the third that the county has pledged to the campaign to keep the Southwest Chief on its present route through the southeast corner of Colorado.

“This would make a total of over 300 miles of rail replacement between TIGER grants,” said Commissioner Sal Pace.

The transportation departments of Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico have all agreed to provide $1 million in matching funds to support the TIGER grant application. Another $3 million has been pledged by Amtrak and BNSF.

The Chief stops in Colorado in Trinida, La Junta and Lamar, but Pace and others want to see the train serve Pueblo.

Pace, who chairs the Southwest Chief Commission, said the next TIGER grant after the Lamar application, will be submitted by Pueblo County and focus on a reroute of the train to serve Pueblo.

He estimated that $35 million is needed to complete the necessary track improvements in the region and the commission intends to apply for the TIGER IX grant to fund those improvements.

Pace said he plans to meet with Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers to discuss a potential extension of rail passenger service to that city.

Pueblo Renews Push to Become SW Chief Stop

November 11, 2015

Officials in Pueblo, Colorado, have renewed their push to reroute Amtrak’s Southwest Chief to serve their community.

The effort comes in the wake of successful efforts to assure the future of the train’s current route through western Kansas, southeastern Colorado and northern New Mexico through the use of federal TIGER grants.

The grant money is being used to rebuild the BNSF tracks used by the Chicago-Los Angeles train.

“If Colorado is going to help save this line, we need to have a stop in Pueblo,” said Sal Pace, a Pueblo County commissioner who has been active in the fight to keep the Southwest Chief on its present route.

Pace is chairman of the Southwest Chief Commission and is promoting the use of Pueblo Union Station. Pueblo has not had intercity rail service since the coming of Amtrak on May 1, 1971.

“The funding mechanism is there,” Pace said about the prospect of a Pueblo stop for the Chief. “The devil is in the details.”

A Colorado State University study estimated that adding Pueblo to the route of the Southwest Chief would attract 15,500 passengers annually and have an economic impact of a $3.4 million.

Pace and others have discussed extending operation of the Denver ski train south along the Interstate 25 corridor.

The ski train currently operates between Denver and Winter Park, Colorado, which is the same route used by Amtrak’s California Zephyr.

Colorado passenger rail advocates see extended operation of the ski train as a way to introduce rail passenger travel to Coloradoans living in areas not served by Amtrak or commuter rail service in the Denver metropolitan area.

“The Ski Train is more than just Winter Park for us,” said Jim Souby, president of the Colorado Rail Passenger Association and a member of the Southwest Chief Commission. “It’s showing people how great it is to ride the train.”

A Colorado Department of Transportation study of a proposed Front Range rail system that would extend between Fort Collins and Pueblo put development costs at between $500 million and $1 billion.

Amtrak has been noncommittal about revising the route of the Southwest Chief to include Pueblo and Walsenburg, Colorado. At present, the only stations served by the Chief in Colorado are Lamar, La Junta and Trinidad.

“We think it’s something worth considering,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. “It’s just a question of cost.”

An Amtrak conductor who works aboard the Southwest Chief sees benefits to having the train serve Pueblo.

“Pueblo would be a big stop,” Marcelino Martinez told the Denver Post. “It would probably rival Kansas City and Albuquerque.”

Martinez said some Chief passengers drive from Colorado Springs to board the train. “We get a lot of people driving down (to La Junta) so they can get to Los Angeles,” he said.

Pueblo is home to the Evraz steel mill, which employs 1,200, and is the nation’s leading producer of rail, some of which is going to be used in rebuilding the route of the Southwest Chief.

The federal government also operates a test track for railroad technology to the east of Pueblo.

TIGER Grant to Fund Additional Track Upgrades on BNSF Route Used by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief

October 27, 2015

More federal grant money will flow toward rebuilding the route of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is awarding a $15 million TIGER grant to the city of La Junta, Colorado, that will be used to fund track work on the BNSF La Junta Subdivision in Colorado and the Albuquerque Subdivision in New Mexico.

An earlier TIGER grant is being used to upgrade tracks used by the Chicago-Los Angeles train through Kansas.

Cities served by the train in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico have raised more than $9 million to match the TIGER grant. Collectively, $24.4 million has been raised for the track project.

The track work will include installation of 39 miles of new welded rail in Colorado and more than 20 miles of new ties and ballast in New Mexico.

The Chief is the only train using the route between La Junta and Madrid, New Mexico. At the latter point, the track into Albuquerque is owned by the State of New Mexico.

Money in Hand for SW Chief Route Track Work

September 3, 2015

Garden City, Kansas, now has funding in hand to devote to rebuilding BNSF tracks used by Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angles Southwest Chief in Kansas and Colorado.

The city received a $12.5 million TIGER grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Matching funds pledged by such partners as the Kansas Department of Transportation, BNSF, local governments in southwest Kansas and southeast Colorado, and the Southwest Chief Coalition will bring the among of money for track work up to $21.8 million

BNSF is expected to replace 50 miles of jointed rail with continuous welded rail

The railroad said that without outside assistance it would have downgraded the line to freight train speeds after its contract with Amtrak expires in early 2016.

There is 158 miles of bolted track between Hutchinson, Kansas, and Animas Jct., Colorado, where the BNSF line from Denver turns south toward Amarillo, Texas.

La Junta, Colorado, is leading the campaign to land another TIGER grant that would include cover local governments in New Mexico.

The Southwest Chief is the only train using the former Santa Fe line from La Junta to state of New Mexico-owned track at Madrid, north of Albuquerque.

Bid to Fund S.W. Chief Falls Short in Colorado

April 20, 2015

Supporters of keeping Amtrak’s Southwest Chief on its current route through Colorado fell one vote short last week when the Colorado legislature’s Joint Budget Committee turned down funding improvement to the train’s route.

“General fund support for the Chief came down to one legislator. We couldn’t secure Senator Kevin Grantham’s vote,” said Sal Pace of Pueblo, Colo., who chairs the Southwest Chief Commission.

“I can’t speculate to his rationale, but it underscores how desperately we need someone from Pueblo on the Joint Budget Committee. There are other avenues for funding, which we are aggressively pursuing beginning today,” Pace said.

Earlier, Chief supporters did manage a victory in the Colorado House when two amendments were added to the House version of the state budget bill that set aside $1 million as a match from other sources to obtain a federal grant to upgrade and repair trackage through Trinidad, La Junta, and Lamar.

A $500,000 appropriation would have funded a study of linking the route to Pueblo.

Neither of those measures survived the committee, leaving the delegation from Pueblo and Southern Colorado weighing its options for funding track work that Amtrak and BNSF say is needed to keep the Chicago-Los Angeles train running on its current route past January 2016.