Archive for Friday, April 13, 2012

Amtrak says Kansas rail service could move by 2016

April 13, 2012


— If money to upgrade and maintain Amtrak's Southwest Chief route through Kansas isn't promised by 2014, the passenger rail service will start the process of moving the route out of the state by 2016, Amtrak officials told a group of legislative and transportation officials.

The poor condition of the track between Hutchinson and Garden City forces Amtrak to slow down its passenger trains, which go through western Kansas on a daily route between Chicago and Los Angeles. The track is owned by BNSF Railway, which maintains the lines just enough to allow its freight trains to go 30 to 40 mph. BNSF's investment in maintenance has dropped in recent years as freight traffic has declined.

Officials estimate it will cost about $100 million to upgrade the track to allow Amtrak trains to return to desired speeds, plus up to $10 million per year for maintenance, The Hutchinson News reported.

"The tracks are steel, but they're 60 years old," Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said during a meeting Thursday in Garden City. "They do wear out. Funding to maintain and improve track will be needed in coming years in order for the Southwest Chief to continue to serve the current route."

The current agreement between Amtrak and BNSF ends in 2016, Magliari said, and Amtrak will then be required to pick up the full cost of maintaining the route.

"If we don't know for certain, or have a great deal of confidence that a plan is being executed by 2014, it takes a period of time to move to another route," Magliari said.

With legislative budgets for 2013 being set now, state commitments would need to be significantly in process by this time next year, said Lindsey Douglas, chief of governmental affairs with the Kansas Department of Transportation.

Representatives from Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico and numerous communities along the route attended the meeting and discussed how to meet the funding needs.

"I think what I picked up from the room is that everyone there is very interested in keeping the line on its current route," Douglas said. "The communities in New Mexico and in southwest and central Kansas are interested in keeping it as it is."

She said legislators from the three states met after the meeting to discuss raising money.

"It's the first time any of us have seen a timeframe for decisions," she said. "It did provide an urgency to the stakeholders, that we need to get this going."

Hutchinson City Manager John Deardoff said he left the meeting believing Amtrak and Burlington Northern "are truly committed" to keeping the Southwest Chief route where it is "if we can figure out a way among the states to allocate this one-time needed capital investment."


none2 6 years ago

They ought to tax BNSF to pay for these upgrades.

Think of all the decades the rail industry got breaks from the government, and now they are holding the government hostage to say that either pay up, or leave?

Frank A Janzen 6 years ago

...not counting the very expensive subsidies we give to airlines and highway infrastructure. Our train system is pitiful compared to the ones in Canada and Europe. We have too many one-person cars on the road and not enough train traffic to keep up with the rest of the industrial world. Let Congress put more money into you train travel.

jmadison 6 years ago

Warren Buffett owns BNSF. Good luck at increasing BNSF taxes as long as Obama is in office. Buffett's companies dispute their corporate taxes and don't pay in a timely fashion.

pace 6 years ago

Sounds like BNSF isn't investing in the rail because their business is declining on that line. They are probably putting their money where their business demands it. You want BNSF to pay for upgrading the track through a special tax so Amtrac will be able to continue to use it. I like the idea that Amtrac can continue by using track maintained by freight charges. Maybe we could look at how to increase freight traffic on that line. Win win. But I don't understand why you think BNSF should be taxed especially for Amtrac rail use. I appreciate that Buffet isn't pulling for special tax breaks like Koch's but are you suggesting because Buffet lobbied for fairer taxes on billionaires his company should be handed the bills for Amtrak?

Fred Whitehead Jr. 6 years ago

The really sorry fact of all this is that nearly all nations of the world have superiour public transportation services and most are nationalised. But with the current political morass that passes for government services, it will never happen here. The Dhinese have created in a very short amount of time a rail system that parallels the fine train service that exists in Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, Austrailia and many other countries where the political wind does not bash, gash and trash public transportation. But you folks bought the line from these Republican wonks and the trrain lines are disappearing. Live with it.

John Hamm 6 years ago

Just had to try and Zing the Republicans didn't ya? Jeezzzzzzzzz. Democrats have been in power just as much.

kochmoney 6 years ago

To be fair, the Republicans have most recently and most famously shot themselves in the foot over rail lines. See: Florida and New Jersey.

youarekiddingright 6 years ago

What about the Amtrak depot here in Lawrence? Is the city still earmarking money to pay for those upgrades?

KU_cynic 6 years ago

Here's more sobering evidence for all those rail nostalgists out there angling for more federal/state/local subsidies for passenger rail on the true costs of keeping this boondoggle going. It would cost a lot more and benefit many fewer than they and their consultants typically estimate.

Mike Ford 6 years ago

I took this train in 1995 to seattle and back and my wife and I went east to Chicago in 2010. it's a shame after all the land stolen from Indian tribes for railroads in kansas that they don't preserve their heritage of theft for transportation routes. oh that's right....the slt.....maybe they are preserving the kansas heritage of stealing Indian land for transportation routes.

compmd 6 years ago

The Southwest Chief doesn't go to Seattle. It goes through...the southwest. Its a Chicago to LA train. Maybe you took a different one up the coast? There's a beautiful ride down the coast to San Diego.

overthemoon 6 years ago

A few years back I was told by a BNSF exec that they opposed increasing passenger rail service because of scheduling hassles. And they oppose alternative energy because coal is their number one cash cow. This is the 'free market' at work folks.

Jayhawk1958 6 years ago

The most important advantage trucking has in all of this is accessibility. But that is a huge roadblock for train transportation.

Flap Doodle 6 years ago

The instant-marvel Chinese high-speed trains seem to be crashing on a regular basis. Oh, do let us be just like them!

newmedia 6 years ago

It's BNSF not Burlington Northern Mr. Hutchinson City Manager. The BN never came close to running on those tracks. It was "Santa Fe all the way".

Carol Bowen 6 years ago

Taking the train to Los Angeles is on my list. We went to Michigan a couple of years ago. It was a very economical way to travel, and safer than our senior driving. The train has been full every time we have used it. A lot of people board in Lawrence.

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