I have been concerned about this story and the following release showed up in my “in” box today.
For Immediate Release
Date: August 27, 2010
Passenger Rail Kansas
Contact: Evan Stair, firstname.lastname@example.org
RE: SOUTHWEST CHIEF SPEED RESTRICTIONS COULD BE TEMPORARY (see attached Map)
Amtrak’s Southwest Chief speed downgrades could be temporary if Kansas State Legislators act quickly. These speed restrictions could be eliminated, at least as far as the Colorado border. The Southwest Chief makes Kansas stops in Lawrence, Topeka, Newton, Hutchinson, Dodge City, and Garden City overnight on its route between Chicago and Los Angeles. The route once hosted the Santa Fe’s Super Chief; arguably the premier passenger train in the United States until Amtrak took over operations in 1971. Dubbed “Train of the Stars,” it once hosted movie stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Julie Garland, Lucille Ball, and Bing Crosby. However; history is only a small part of what would be preserved with investment.
Long Term, development of a cooperative agreement between the states of Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico could ensure the viability of passenger rail service in Western Kansas, Southeast Colorado, and Northern New Mexico where the Southwest Chief operates. The route, as far as La Junta, CO, is considered a potential passenger rail link between Kansas City – Pueblo – Colorado Springs – Denver. The route between Belen, NM and the Colorado line near Trinidad is owned by the state of New Mexico.
Without such public investment, it is likely just a matter of time before Amtrak is forced to reroute the Southwest Chief through Amarillo rather than Hutchinson, Dodge CityGarden City. Track conditions will only get worse as the privately held BNSF defers maintenance on a route that is only lightly used for freight traffic. The route between La Junta, CO and Lamy, NM is essentially used only for Amtrak’s and Southwest Chief passenger trains. However; the route between Newton and La Junta, CO is very important for agri-interests and coal traffic. Obviously, maintaining this route segment makes sense for regional freight traffic.
METHOD FOR INVESTMENT:
In March, the state of Kansas passed SB409 creating the Kansas Passenger Rail Development Act. This development act created a state revolving fund that can be used for rail investment. The Kansas Department of Transportation also has a freight rail department that should take note. Further, as federal funding becomes available through HSIPR, projects such as this will receive priority. The Federal Railroad Administration provided $8 billion to states in January alone to develop such beneficial projects through HSIPR.
State legislators could use this situation as an opportunity to trickle investment into the rail line, fulfilling its multi-modal vision. The investment would also keep the line open for through freight traffic, keeping damaging heavy truck traffic off of Kansas highways. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials states that a fully loaded 80,000 Gross Volume Weight semi-truck does 9,600 times the damage of an automobile. The savings in road maintenance alone justifies such an investment. Keeping truck traffic low on U.S. Highway 50 is also a very important safety consideration.
“The state of New Mexico already runs passenger trains through the Rail Runner service between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. There are persistent rumors that they would like to extend this route all the way to Denver. Yes, New Mexico has an active and aggressive passenger rail program,” according to Evan Stair a Passenger Rail Kansas spokesperson. “This investment would encourage rail freight hauling. Keeping the Western Kansas economy strong requires investment in such transportation infrastructure. This is not just about a passenger train. It is about the future of regional transportation.”
REFERENCE: Hutchinson News::: http://www.hutchnews.com/Todaystop/amtrak-slowed-in-ks–1
Passenger Rail Kansas is a grass roots advocacy community dedicated to the preservation and expansion of Passenger Rail Services across Kansas and the surrounding region. http://www.PassengerRailKS.org