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.


JerryStubbs 1 year, 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."


Carol Bowen 1 year, 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.


blindrabbit 1 year, 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.


classclown 1 year, 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?


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 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.


blindrabbit 1 year, 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 1 year, 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.


patkindle 1 year, 7 months ago

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


FalseHopeNoChange 1 year, 7 months ago

A choo choo to 'Kansas'? Why? Who goes to Kansas? That's like putting a 'troll' booth outside of Larryville expecting people to 'pay' to visit? Visit what?

Kansas is 'lucky' that Missery has MCI


frankfussman 1 year, 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.


jmadison 1 year, 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.


1 year, 7 months ago

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


LJ Whirled 1 year, 7 months ago

The answer is right there in the headline: eliminate Amtrak


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