WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Representative Ben Ray Luján announced that their bipartisan measure 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 was signed into law as part of the Fiscal Year 2019 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (T-HUD) appropriations bill.
The Udall-Heinrich-Luján measure 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. Previously, Amtrak leadership proposed replacing train service with bus service along a significant portion of the route.
“We have already seen a $180 million dollar return on our work to save the Southwest Chief. With this funding, communities from Raton to Gallup and beyond will continue to benefit from this historic service that is an economic engine for so many New Mexico communities,” said Udall. “We will continue to work closely with stakeholders, local residents, and Amtrak leadership to keep the Southwest Chief on sound financial track so that travelers from across the country can continue to experience this all-American journey from East to West.”
“I’m proud to help lead the bipartisan coalition in the Senate that has rejected Amtrak’s misguided proposals to undermine the Southwest Chief. This funding will help ensure financial stability for this important long-distance passenger rail service,” said Heinrich. “Each year, the Southwest Chief brings thousands of Scouts from around the country to New Mexico’s Philmont Scout Ranch and generates economic activity in our communities like Raton, Las Vegas, and Lamy. I won’t stop fighting to protect this essential service for our communities.”
“The Southwest Chief line is not only an economic driver in our region, it’s a testament to the beauty and cultural vitality of the Land of Enchantment,” said Luján. “The preservation of this key piece of infrastructure will require a sustained federal commitment, which is why I’m pleased this funding package contains significant resources for the line.”
Udall, Heinrich, and Luján have long advocated for investment in rural infrastructure like the Southwest Chief line, which helps boost local economies and connect rural communities in New Mexico, like Gallup and Las Vegas, to the rest of the nation. Udall and Heinrich helped lead the bipartisan efforts in the Senate to secure the additional $50 million in federal funding necessary to help maintain Amtrak’s train, and pushed for a bipartisan amendment emphasizing Congress’s strong support for Amtrak long-distance routes, derailing Amtrak’s plan to substitute rail services with bus services. Congressman Luján led a similar effort in the house with 13 other members to express support for the measure.
In a recent study by the Rail Passengers Association and the University of Southern Mississippi, maintaining rail services between Dodge City, Kansas and Albuquerque, New Mexico prevented $180 million in losses for local economies. Last year, Udall and Heinrich wrote 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.
The Southwest Chief runs daily between Chicago and Los Angeles, connecting towns and cities across the western United States and providing train and long-distance passenger service, particularly through rural areas. In New Mexico, the Southwest Chief serves several communities, including Raton, Las Vegas, Lamy, Albuquerque, and Gallup.
In addition to Udall and Heinrich in the Senate, the measure was pushed by U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), 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.