Senate Approves Udall, Heinrich Amendment to Boost Funding for Southwest Chief

WASHINGTONU.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich announced that their bipartisan amendment to provide an additional $50 million in federal funding to help maintain Amtrak train services along the established, long-distance passenger rail route of the Southwest Chief passed the Senate today by a unanimous vote. This amendment would effectively halt Amtrak’s proposal to substitute rail service with bus service over large segments of the route through FY2019. The amendment was sponsored by Udall and U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and cosponsored by Heinrich and U.S. Senators Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), all senators who represent states through which the critical Southwest Chief route runs.

Udall and Heinrich’s amendment was included in the 2019 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies appropriations bill that passed on a 92 to 6 vote. This amendment would provide resources for maintenance and safety improvements along the Southwest Chief route and would compel Amtrak to fulfill its promise of matching funding for the successful TIGER IX discretionary grant supported by local communities in New Mexico along the route. Today’s amendment builds upon last week’s Senate passage of Udall and Heinrich’s bipartisan amendment emphasizing Congress’s strong support for Amtrak long-distance routes, which was adopted by a vote of 95 to 4.

“For the second time in two weeks, the Senate is speaking out with strong, bipartisan support for long-distance rail, especially the Southwest Chief -- and this time with $50 million in new funding,” Udall said. “Replacing rail service with bus service between Dodge City, Kansas and Albuquerque, New Mexico would not only have completely disrupted service for Amtrak passengers, it would have discouraged riders from taking the Southwest Chief in the first place, adding to Amtrak’s financial problems. The Southwest Chief route is an economic engine in New Mexico, giving passengers a ride through time -- through the historic West -- and connecting our communities. The additional funding from our amendment will make sure the Southwest Chief gets back on a sound financial track. I remain committed to working with our communities, Amtrak leadership, and other stakeholders to keep the Chief running long into the future.”

“I’m proud to help lead this bipartisan coalition in the Senate to save the Southwest Chief, and I hope that my colleagues in the House of Representatives agree that fighting for infrastructure in rural America is good for our economy as a whole,” said Heinrich. “Each year, the Southwest Chief brings thousands of Boy Scouts from around the country to New Mexico’s Philmont Boy Scout Ranch and generates economic activity in our communities like Raton, Las Vegas, and Lamy. It makes no sense for Amtrak to provide inferior service while cutting out a key part of rural America. We’re going to continue fighting any effort to undermine this important route.”

“The Southwest Chief is critical to many Kansans’ livelihood – ending this route would be a disservice to the many Kansans who rely on this route every day,” said Moran. “I applaud the bipartisan efforts to keep the Southwest Chief operational for our rural communities and will continue working with Amtrak to make certain this route remains available for the Kansans who need it.” 

“I am pleased the Senate has approved our amendment to ensure continuous rail service on all long distance routes, especially the Southwest Chief,” said Roberts. “We heard from many Kansans strongly opposed to the proposed bus service within the route.”

“I’m excited to support an amendment that will greatly help the Southwest Chief’s continued presence in southeastern Colorado,” said Gardner. “The amendment secured by the bipartisan coalition in the appropriations bill will set aside funding for route improvements and enhancements, providing the opportunity to ensure the Southwest Chief stays in Colorado and continues servicing the rural areas that desperately need it.”

“The Southwest Chief is an important component of Southeastern Colorado's tourism economy, and we will do all we can to preserve it,” said Bennet. “We’ll continue to work closely with lawmakers from Colorado—and also New Mexico and Kansas—to keep running the Southwest Chief through our state."

The Southwest Chief runs daily between Chicago and Los Angeles and connects towns and cities in New Mexico, Kansas, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Colorado, Arizona and California and provides passenger train and long-distance passenger service, particularly through rural communities. The Southwest Chief runs through several New Mexico communities, including Raton, Las Vegas, Lamy, Albuquerque, and Gallup.

Items to Note:

- Last week, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a Sense of the Congress measure to affirm support for the long-distance rail service and to oppose Amtrak’s plan to substitute bus service in certain segments.

- Last month, the senators sent a letter to Amtrak’s CEO urging him to uphold Amtrak’s side of a longstanding public-private partnership to continue operating the Southwest Chief passenger train and long-distance passenger service.

- In May, the senators sent a bipartisan, multi-state letter condemning Amtrak’s decision not to match TIGER grant funds.