Hutchinson — 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.