Posts Tagged ‘Southwest Chief Commission’

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.

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.

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.