Archive for Friday, August 31, 2012

Funding problem could eliminate Amtrak’s Southwest Chief from 3 Kansas cities

August 31, 2012


— Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico transportation officials have notified Amtrak that they do not have the millions of dollars the passenger rail service said is necessary to repair and maintain deteriorating tracks in western Kansas.

The three states sent a letter to Amtrak this week saying funding is not available to fix tracks between Hutchinson and Garden City that are in such disrepair that trains have to slow down on their daily run from Chicago to Los Angeles. The tracks are owned by BNSF Railway Co., which maintains them just enough to allow its freight trains to go 30 to 40 mph.

The current route agreement between Amtrak and BNSF ends in 2016, after which Amtrak would have to pay the full cost of maintaining the route. Amtrak officials warned the states that if a solution is not found by 2014 it would move the Southwest Chief route south, through Oklahoma and Texas, with a stop in Wichita.

That would take service away from Hutchinson, Garden City and Dodge City.

Amtrak has asked the three states to spend a combined $100 million over the next decade to improve the tracks and also split $10 million a year between the states, Amtrak and BNSF Railroad to maintain the route.

"Unfortunately, our states are unable to commit to the capital improvement or the ongoing maintenance of the Southwest Chief service at this time," the letter said.

After stakeholders in the route met in Garden City in April, the three states' transportation departments were asked to determine if funding was available, Dennis Slimmer, chief of transportation planning with the Kansas Department of Transportation told The Hutchinson News Thursday.

State officials have contacted their respective Congressional delegations to discuss other possible solutions, according to the letter.

Slimmer said information from BNSF indicates repair costs could be higher than $100 million, perhaps as much as $85 million just in Kansas.

Even if Kansas lawmakers found a funding source, it might not be enough, Slimmer said.

"It doesn't do any good to improve the line in Kansas if Colorado and New Mexico don't have the budget to do it," he said.

Many cities along the route have allocated money to hire a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., to push for funding for the rail service.

"It's disappointing, but I don't believe the door has been totally closed," Hutchinson City Manager John Deardoff said. "I think as the issue develops and is worked on over the next several months, maybe the DOT will get back involved in the conversation."

Deardoff said it's also important for Amtrak to "step up with their role in the whole effort."

The route had 354,912 riders during the 2011 fiscal year, a 3.7 percent increase from 2010. Nearly 48,000 people used the route in Kansas, up nearly 9 percent from the previous year.


5 years, 7 months ago

Why? Be more specific. When was the last time you rode a train?

Dan Rose 5 years, 7 months ago

I'm riding one tomorrow to St. Louis $29 one-way - SO much cheaper than driving!

I'd hate to see the KS train go before I get a chance to ride to the West Coast!

mr_right_wing 5 years, 7 months ago

...well there's one possible solution; let the people who take these trains pay for repairs. A fare increase to $60 to St. Louis doesn't sound too outrageous.

I've made the same suggestion for the Lawrence depot, add a $5 'user fee' to every ticket sold at that depot to improve and maintain the facility.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

Are you willing to have car drivers start covering all the subsidies and externalized costs for their preferred form of transport? (or would that cost you something, therefore is off the table?)

chootspa 5 years, 7 months ago

In Kansas the combined gas tax is 51 cents per gallon. The federal tax is 18.4 cents per gallon or slightly more for diesel. In what alternate universe is that 70% of the price? BTW, that isn't enough to fund current road projects anymore.

Liberty275 5 years, 7 months ago

He'd need a car to know anything about gas tax.

chootspa 5 years, 7 months ago

The west coast route is pretty but a bit pricey and takes a while. The Chicago route is terrific and goes straight downtown. I take it whenever I can substitute trains for flying.

mr_right_wing 5 years, 7 months ago

"When was the last time you rode a train?"

EXACTLY...we're not really talking of necessity for most people any's more luxury or nastalga.

The last time I rode a train was in Baldwin City for AMUSEMENT.

chootspa 5 years, 7 months ago

I ride the train all the time. It's about the same amount of time as driving to the airport and going through security to get to Chicago while using less gas. It's also cheaper and allows me to bring whatever size drink I want with me.

Liberty275 5 years, 7 months ago

You can take a train to Chicago in 3 hours?

chootspa 5 years, 7 months ago

Unless you've got a time machine, it's pushing it to claim that you can make that trip in 3 hours, including travel time to and from the airport and security.

These days the cheapest fight often ends up having some layover somewhere, which totally negates any speed difference for flying. Unless there's a compelling reason to get there before 3:30, I'd rather just take the train. Besides, it's half the price.

Liberty275 5 years, 7 months ago

I've not flown to Chicago, but we flew to Ft Myers FL via DC, we left the house at 7 am, got lost on the way to the airport and still touched down at Reagan International around 10. We had 30 minutes to make our connecting flight and were having lunch in Ft Myers at noon.

I think passenger trains are an anachronism and really only suitable as something to ride if it's a narrow gauge winding it's way through a mountain pass.

If you prefer general travel by train, that's cool with me. You lose too much control of your life when someone else has the wheel. I really prefer driving because I like to detour and see crystal caverns, the largest ball of string, an old graveyard or the first Sonny's Barbeque we see.

Vacationing in Colorado, we went 50 miles back an old logging trail (with an unbelievable view of Colorado Springs). On a vacation in Saint Augustine, we took the jeep right down into the Atlantic Ocean. New Mexico offered a nice drive up the side of the Rio Grande canyon. Can't do that with a train.

We only fly when time is limited. Riding a train would never work.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

Yes, air travel is almost always faster than train travel.

But since when is getting to your destination a couple of hours sooner the only consideration? The energy requirements for flying to Chicago are at least quadruple that of taking a train, and even though you're congenitally/ideologically incapable of acknowledging it, indiscriminate use of fossil fuels is anachronistic, whether it's in an airliner or your precious jeep.

jmadison 5 years, 7 months ago

Topeka and Lawrence are also not on the main transcontinental line of the BNSF railroad. They could next be on the chopping block.

average 5 years, 7 months ago

True. The BNSF line from Topeka to KC is probably safe enough for the next several decades (coal to the Lawrence Energy Center alone), but the necessary connection from Emporia up to Topeka isn't guaranteed at all.

Liberty275 5 years, 7 months ago

"I hope we're not on the chopping block."

You hope the government doesn't take away your transportation and I'll keep my car. Sounds fair to me.

chootspa 5 years, 7 months ago

Hope it's got great wheels for driving off road.

Liberty275 5 years, 7 months ago

On a trip to Arkansas we were driving along a ridge and I decided I was going down the side. So we geared down to 4 low and went through the trees right to the bottom of the valley then back up the 30 degree slope. I think we are mostly ready. I appreciate your concern.

Pro-tip: don't leave your fishing rods on the roof while driving through the woods.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

This indicates very clearly the superficial thinking (well, thinking may be an overly generous term) that results when Libertarianism is elevated to a religion.

Liberty275 5 years, 7 months ago

Close. I care about me, my wife, our dogs and our friends. The balance is none of my business.

Frank A Janzen 5 years, 7 months ago

I have taken the train to and from New Mexico a few times. It's a nice ride. Europe has a much better rail system than the US. We need to step up to the plate. Congress needs to fund this.

Flap Doodle 5 years, 7 months ago

When the US shrinks to the size of Europe and gets their population density, copying their rail system will make sense. Until then, no so much.

Liberty275 5 years, 7 months ago

That's nice. Last we were in NM or travels took us past a huge caldera, ancient-American ruins, a pretty tall bridge close to Taos and Los Alamos. Did your train pass any of those?

Keith 5 years, 7 months ago

I think that 'troll' booth is located in Linwood.

patkindle 5 years, 7 months ago

so how much track can you rebuild if you charge 29 bucks for a trip to st louis??

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

"Slimmer said information from BNSF indicates repair costs could be higher than $100 million, perhaps as much as $85 million just in Kansas."

Compare that to the $140 million that'll get spent on the five miles of the SLT thru the Haskell Wetlands.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 7 months ago

I'm guessing more people will use the SLT each day than will use Amtrak through Kansas each day.

mr_right_wing 5 years, 7 months ago

I'd go farther and say more people will use the SLT in one day than will utilize Amtrak in one week!! (Maybe even a month...)

chootspa 5 years, 7 months ago

Huh. I've never gotten that impression from the professional and courtesy staff that attended me on my trips. They must not have been teh ebil union memberz.

Liberty275 5 years, 7 months ago

When I was a little kid, my brother fresh back from Vietnam graded land and helped build roads in Cape Coral FL. 20 years later I fished in the canals he'd help build in the big empty grid of deteriorating roads. There was no need to fix them for me as they still got me to the best bass fishing within 50 miles.

Some years ago I went back and now the empty grid is filled with houses and repaved roads. I liked it better the old way.

If a road is disused, why would you repave it?

mr_right_wing 5 years, 7 months ago

Just to CLARIFY...I was refering to the route that might be abandon (vs. SLT when it opens)...not the entire Amtrak system on any given day.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

If the train could go faster than 30-40 mph thru the large sections of Kansas, Colorado and NM in question here, and subsidies for train travel were equal to that given to car and plane travel, such would not be the case.

Regardless, the point is that the amount of money required to upgrade these tracks is a drop in the bucket compared to what is spent on other modes of transportation-- modes that are, in fact, just not sustainable at their current levels.

Plus, maintenance of railways is considerably cheaper than maintenance of highways.

chootspa 5 years, 7 months ago

This. And if Brownback ever seriously wanted to stop the drain of citizens out of Kansas, he'd beef up the train system instead of trying to kill it.

Liberty275 5 years, 7 months ago

"Plus, maintenance of railways is considerably cheaper than maintenance of highways."

I'll make a deal with you. I'll admit highway maintenance is much better funded. I'll take it as a given.

So let's make it right. We'll increase the funding to make the best tracks in the world and you remove speed limits from all limited access divided highways.

Want my money, for a train I won't use? That's how you get it. We'll both be happy. I'll wave to you as I pass. Smiling.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

Well, it won't be just you and I making the decision, and given that your idea is a really bad one, and mine a sensible one, I suspect that you'll be holding your breath a long time.

blindrabbit 5 years, 7 months ago

Warren Buffett owns BNSF, he ought to pony-up the cost of track maintenance. Ridden the SW Chief fro Lawrence to Santa Fe (Lamy) many times, would hate to see it go. The most interesting part of the trip follows the Mountain Route of the Santa Fe Trail from Dodge City, Lamar, LaJunta and Trinidad, Colorado then over Raton Pass into New Mexico. A more southern route from Wichita, thru Oklahoma and Texas woulf be much less interesting and would probably eliminate Santa Fe going directly from Tucumcari to Albuquerque.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

Wanna know why the US rail system sucks? It's because when we had a comprehensive (private) nationwide rail system, it was taxed heavily in order to subsidize the construction of highways, airports and air-traffic control systems and development of intercity bus systems. Unable to compete, private passenger railways went out of business, and since the formation of Amtrak, the government subsidies it receives account for only 1% of overall federal expenditures for transportation.

Liberty275 5 years, 7 months ago

"Wanna know why the US rail system sucks?"

I don't really care.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

I wouldn't want to live in a world of your creation.

classclown 5 years, 7 months ago

If New Mexico can't afford to spend the money fixing the rails, what good would it do to divert trains into Texas then across New Mexico?

blindrabbit 5 years, 7 months ago

Classclown: The mainline BNSF does not run over track that is discussed in this story. Mainline BNSF enters New Mexico from West Texas just east of Tucumcari, then to Albuquerque, Gallup, on to L.A. The trackage discussed in this story is a minor line that divides from the mainline at Emporia then to Newton, Dodge, Garden City, LaJunta, Trinidad, Raton in Colorado, Las Vegas (NM not NV), Santa Fe then rejoins the mainline in Albuquerque. New Mexico and Kansas would be freed-up from spending monies to upgrade trackage if the route was switched to the Mainline, because maintenance would be by BNSF. Things would not change for Oklahoma and Texas because the current route of the SouthWest Chief does not go through these states.; Colorado would be the big looser, route in state eliminated, but saving track maintenance costs.

Carol Bowen 5 years, 7 months ago

If we loose AMTRAK, it's our own fault, lack of commitment. Sports complexes are much more exciting. I have ridden AMTRACK for years, not just from Lawrence. I have seen other communities large and small take advantage of grant opportunities or just grit to build attractive railroad stations, Norman OK, for example.

Carol Bowen 5 years, 7 months ago

Good point. It's kind of a circular need, isn't it? Can't justify one without the other. My point is some communities took a first step. It certainly isn't as expensive as gambling on the sports village.

JerryStubbs 5 years, 7 months ago

It would be great if AMTRAK had an AUTO TRAIN from Chicago to LA....

"During fiscal year 2011, the Auto Train carried over 250,000 passengers, a 6.4% increase over FY2010. The train had a total revenue of US$68,618,768 in FY2011, an increase of 12.5% over FY2010. The Auto Train had the highest revenue of any long-distance train in the Amtrak system."

From the Chicago Tribune: AMTRAK RIDERS EXPRESS LOVE OF AUTO TRAIN Success may put new routes on track, including Chicago

There are no immediate plans to bring the Auto Train to Chicago, but Amtrak has studied routes that include the Windy City... Ridership is running about 233,000 passengers and about 111,000 vehicles a year, officials said, adding that other routes are being considered.

"The fascinating thing about this crowd is that we did a feasibility study in Chicago and it found there is the same clientele in Chicago as there is in the Northeast United States," Vollten said.

"The folks in Chicago go to Phoenix to winter over. So they were talking about the probability of putting an Auto Train on from Chicago to Phoenix and back, probably linking it up with one of our other western trains that already exist," Vollten said."

Commenting has been disabled for this item.