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Sangre de Cristo Chronicle: Amtrak’s Southwest Chief Route gets help from $15.2 million grant

The U.S. Dept. of Transportation has awarded a $15.2 million TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant for the Amtrak Southwest Chief Route Advancement and Improvement Project.

According to a grant notification sent to U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and others, “The Southwest Chief Route Advancement and Improvement Project allows the City of La Junta to continue the rehabilitation of the BNSF La Junta Subdivision in Colorado, adding approximately 39 miles of new continuously welded rail, and repairing over 20 miles of roadbed with new ties and ballast on the Albuquerque Subdivision in New Mexico.”

Last year, Heinrich made several stops from Raton to Las Vegas on the Amtrak Southwest Chief with Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman to discuss the future of the route and its economic impact on local communities. They stopped at stations in Raton, Cimarron, and Las Vegas, including a special visit to Philmont Scout Ranch where Heinrich met with leaders of the Boy Scouts of America camp.

“The Southwest Chief isn’t just a railroad route in New Mexico, it serves as an economic engine that connects communities from Gallup to Raton to the rest of the nation,” Heinrich said. “These critical capital improvements will ensure that Boy Scouts from across the country can experience the Philmont Ranch and will help communities like Las Vegas and Lamy stay connected to major cities and tourism dollars.”

Sen. Tom Udall, who has been a strong supporter of the Southwest Chief for many years, said “From Raton to Gallup, communities across our state depend on the Southwest Chief as an economic engine. Its future has been uncertain, but this $15 million investment will strengthen the rail line and help ensure it keeps bringing visitors and business to New Mexico. As our state’s senior senator and a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I’ve always been proud to fight for rural transportation infrastructure like the iconic Southwest Chief.”

In spring 2015, Tom Church, Cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Department of Transportation, told the Santa Fe New Mexican, “We are coordinating an effort with the Southwest Chief Coalition for the Northern New Mexico cities and counties to develop a TIGER grant through the federal Transportation Department.”

BNSF Railway owns the tracks that the Southwest Chief traverses in western Kansas, Colorado and Northern New Mexico. It had told Amtrak and the three states that it wouldn’t maintain the tracks after the end of this year.

Amtrak has said about 22,000 Boy Scouts travel each summer to the Philmont Scout Ranch and about 20 percent of them arrive in Raton by train, which accounts for half the business at the Raton station.