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Archive for Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Officials to take a ride on deteriorating Amtrak route through Kansas

January 9, 2013

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Railroad officials have arranged a special train ride this week to let state and local officials see and feel firsthand the problems of deteriorating track on the route of the Southwest Chief through Kansas.

An Amtrak engine will pull specially equipped BNSF Railway cars from Topeka to La Junta, Colo., with “theater seating,” allowing officials to view the track as the train passes over it, said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

Some 30 to 40 people will participate in at least part of Thursday’s trip, as the train stops in cities along the route to pick up local officials. After reaching La Junta about 4:45 p.m., the participants will board the Southwest Chief later that evening to return home.

Scheduled participants include vice presidents for Amtrak and BNSF Fe, the Kansas secretary and deputy secretary of transportation, KDOT’s bureau chief of transportation planning and its chief of governmental affairs.

Hutchinson City Manager John Deardoff and Hutchinson Mayor Dave Razo plan to participate. Officials from other stops along the route in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico have also been invited. A federal lobbyist hired by a number of cities on the route will also be there, Deardoff said.

The passenger train has had to slow its speeds while passing through much of the western part of the state because of the track condition. The ends of the steel rails are starting to sag because of age, setting up a rocking motion in the train if it passes over too fast.

BNSF owns the track, but maintains the rail only to a level required for 30- to 40-mph freight traffic. Under its contract with BNSF, Amtrak is required to fund any maintenance or improvements for higher speeds and, starting in 2016, Amtrak will be required to begin paying the full cost of maintaining the route.

Amtrak and BNSF have suggested that the three states and the two railroads share the $100 million cost over the next decade to improve the tracks and also split $10 million a year in annual operating subsidies between the states, Amtrak and BNSF Railroad to maintain the route.

Transportation officials from the three states, in a written response last August to the proposal, indicated that state funding isn’t available.

Amtrak has warned, however, that without a commitment by the end of 2014 to help make the necessary repairs and maintain the route, it will reroute the Southwest Chief through Oklahoma and Texas — via Wichita.

“It’s part of our effort to educate state and local officials about the challenges we face,” Amtrak’s Magliari said.

The ride should give officials “a better understanding of what’s needed to keep service on the route” as dialogue between state and railroad officials continues, said Lindsey Douglas, KDOT chief of governmental affairs.

“I’m excited,” Douglas said. “It will give us a new level of detail we haven’t had as far as exactly what the improvements are and to get an explanation firsthand who will benefit.”

Comments

jhawkinsf 1 year, 3 months ago

As much as I suspect that a trip from Kansas to either coast via rail would be a pleasant experience, I also suspect that the numbers of people actually doing that would be very low. If we're ever to encourage rail usage as a legitimate alternative for the masses, we should concentrate our efforts on short to middle distance routes using high speed rails. Routes such as Dallas to Houston, or Los Angeles to Las Vegas come to mind. Maybe Kansas City to St. Louis. Maybe Chicago to Indianapolis. But probably not Kansas City to Albuquerque by way of Denver. The numbers just won't be there to justify the huge costs.

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JerryStubbs 1 year, 3 months ago

Yes there should be a route to Denver. There are no NORTH-SOUTH routes between the west coast and the Chicago-Texas route either.

AMTRAK was never completed, and so has never been up to its potential.

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catfishturkeyhunter 1 year, 3 months ago

I'm still trying to figure out why there isn't a route between Kansas City and Denver. Seems to me that would be better than going clear to New Mexico and then back up to Denver

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Jack McEnaney 1 year, 3 months ago

I was astonished at how comfortable and relaxing train travel is. I can't imagine how much better it would be of the government would get out of the way and let the free market take over the train industry dissolving Amtrak. 3200 for two people to go to Virginia is ridiculous.

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tomatogrower 1 year, 3 months ago

I love train travel. Flying is such a stressful hassle anymore.

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holcomb 1 year, 3 months ago

At one time the track from hutchinson to LaJunta was one of the fastest in the country,Some times I would "race" the Amtrak train along side on highway 50 and even at 80mph the train was still pulling away Amtrak

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blindrabbit 1 year, 3 months ago

Kansas is slip-sliding away; any doubts why? Where does one start!

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gccs14r 1 year, 3 months ago

Abandoning the route from Hutchinson on sounds like the first step in abandoning Kansas entirely. It's probably not much of a stretch to reroute at St. Louis through Springfield, Joplin, and Tulsa to get to OKC and continue on from there, should Kansas continue to be hostile to passenger rail. Just one more step in the demise of Kansas from shortsighted thinking on the part of our government.

No education, no infrastructure, no healthcare, and no equal rights. That's not the kind of place that's going to attract anybody. No wonder Kansas is sinking.

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toe 1 year, 3 months ago

This a money train. As in give me money.

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blindrabbit 1 year, 3 months ago

The re-route would be far less interesting! Not following the Santa Fe Trail through Dodge, LaJunta, Lamar, Trinidad, Raton Pass, Cimarron N.M. (Boy Scout Philmont Drop Off), Las Vegas N.M, to Lamy (Santa Fe) then to rejoin the proposed route at Albuquerque. I've driven along both routes the Oklahoma-Texas-Albuquerque change would be pretty dull. Also diminishes the "flavor" of the old Santa Fe Chief, Super Chief trains.

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Bill_Slu 1 year, 3 months ago

I agree with both of you. As soon as the nazi t.s.a. molesters started making me take off my shoes, I quit flying. No searches, no banning of liquids or pocket knives and you get to leave your shoes on. The cost is around $70 one way, and beats driving as well. I take the SW Chief train to Chicago once or twice a year now and it kicks flying in the a$$! You show up 5 min before the train gets there and off you go! After a 9 hour ride, the train stops at Union Station where you can walk a block to the Metra Station (local commuter trains) and go anywhere in the city for $5-$8.

FYI there is also an electrical outlet by every seat to charge/run your laptop or electroinc devices. You may also leave your seat and traytable in the unlocked and down position anytime you feel like it.

FYI2 No extra tax or fees! You pay the fare and that is it!

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Antonym 1 year, 3 months ago

Agreed, the train ride to St Louis is a blast. There are nice hotels within walking distance of the Union Station and the City trains and busses in St Louis are fantastic. Buy a day pass and go just about anywhere you want. You can even take your own bottle on the train and get snockered on the trip. No driving necessary! Now a train trip to Wichita or Hutch would be out of the question.

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clovis_sangrail 1 year, 3 months ago

From an earlier article in the Wichita Eagle, which I had to google and so will you, it looks as if the route through eastern Kansas will be largely unchanged, but that it would route through Wichita instead if Hutchinson, then would run south and west through Oklahoma and Texas. This makes more sense than the present route because there are probably more people wanting to ride the thing in Wichita than in all of western Kansas along that route.

If the folks in western Kansas want to keep the route there, they'll have to get with their representative, who we know has a lot on influence in the House.

As a side note, I took the train to St. Louis, and it absolutely rocks. I caught it at Union Station in KC and it dropped me off a $10 cab ride from my hotel downtown. No TSA, no keeping your seatbelt fastened, friendly staff, and a seat that was more comfortable and had more room than any airline seat I have ever seen. Plus, they serve almost real food and excellent coffee, and you can use your electronic devices the whole way. Four people, round trip -- Under $400. You can't fly for that.

I highly recommend it.

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