Amtrak explores ending train service from New Mexico to southwest Kansas
photo by: AP File Photo
HUTCHINSON — Amtrak is considering ending passenger train service from southwest Kansas to central New Mexico and instead implementing a bus connection on the route.
Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson revealed to lawmakers last week the train operator is looking into ending Southwest Chief service between Dodge City and Albuquerque, N.M. The announcement came after lawmakers asked the company to stand behind agreements it previously made to upgrade and maintain its route through the south-central U.S., the Hutchinson News reported.
“I was very disappointed in the nature of the meeting and the lack of commitment on the part of Amtrak to keep its word and contribute the $3 million match toward this TIGER grant application,” Republican Sen. Jerry Moran said, referring to a federal grant awarded last year to upgrade hundreds of miles of rail primarily in Colfax County, Colo.
The 2017 TIGER grant is the third one to be awarded to communities along the Southwest Chief route to upgrade the line, starting with a $12.4 million grant to Garden City in 2014 and a $15.2 million grant a year later to La Junta, Colo.
Each grant required a commitment for matching dollars from Amtrak, communities along the route, the states of Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico, and BNSF Railway, which owns the tracks. Amtrak provided $4 million in matches on the first two grants and pledged $3 million to the third one.
But the train operator now said the financial investment needed to retain the portion of the routes isn’t possible because railroads are also under a federally mandated December deadline to install Positive Train Controls, a system to automatically stop a train not under an engineer’s control. Preliminary estimates show at least $55 million required to complete system installation on the route.
Passenger Rail Kansas President Evan Stair believes Amtrak intends to implement the bus service after the system installation deadline.
“The effect of this would be damaging, not only to those cities that would lose rail service but to all Southwest Chief cities,” Stair said. “Understand ridership drops substantially … with every transfer. So we are really discussing long-term the discontinuance of service.”
The nearly 2,300-mile passenger train service has run daily between Chicago and Los Angeles since 1974.