ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The Southwest Chief has hit another bump in the track.
KOB uncovered documents revealing exactly what Amtrak management has in store for our state’s largest passenger rail link.
In a meeting with Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., along with a bipartisan delegation of lawmakers from neighboring states, asked the railroad to follow through with funding that would supplement a federal grant.
Heinrich said the meeting did not go well.
“I think this was one of the most unproductive meetings with an agency level official that I’ve ever experienced,” he said. “To learn that not only are they planning to pull back their commitment to the TIGER grant, but that they're going to abandon the route I think is just outrageous.”
Those documents obtained by KOB detail what Amtrak presented in that meeting.
Because of outdated railroad track and signal systems between Raton Pass and Lamy, upgrades need to be made that would cost more than what is included in that Department of Transportation-provided TIGER grant.
Amtrak officials said they’re not willing to contribute any money without a "comprehensive plan from other stakeholders." That means the company doesn't plan on paying to repair track and signals they don’t own.
As for the passengers, documents outline a plan to divert service at Albuquerque, sending eastbound passengers on charter buses to meet up with the train in Colorado or Kansas.
Westbound passengers wouldn’t be affected and will still be able to take the Chief to Los Angeles.
Though disappointed, Heinrich said the fight is not over.
“There are very active conversations going on right now to figure out what our appropriations strategy is and to push back forcibly and vigorously," he said. "We've had to fight for the Southwest Chief before and we will fight for the Southwest Chief again.”
Amtrak provided the following statement for this story:
“During conversations with members of the Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico congressional delegations, Amtrak indicated that we are considering various service options for the Southwest Chief in response to the significant host railroad costs facing Amtrak for continued use of the middle portion of the route between Dodge City and Albuquerque.
"These options will consider the long-term operating and capital costs of continuing current service over the entire route and alternate bus and rail service combinations that would ensure continued transportation service and connections to the Amtrak rail network for all communities along the route.
"The Southwest Chief is unique in that it is the only route where a significant section of infrastructure is owned by a host railroad – BNSF Railway – but solely used by Amtrak. Significant future costs are facing Amtrak to upgrade the BNSF track.
"Amtrak is thoroughly analyzing the route and considering the appropriate strategies for enhancing safety for operations after the December 2018 federal deadline for Positive Train Control."