Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Amtrak’s Southwest Chief plan sparks rail passenger lobby response, Arkansas connection here!

This item appeared in my email and I am sure Mr. Evan Stair will not object to my distribution here. While I am pessimistic about the future of almost everything, the 60-year silliness over doing away with intercity passenger trains is simply beyond laughable, even as they become more necessary in an increasingly depressed economy.  This controversy concerning the Southwest Chief will have an impact on Arkansas. Read on.
Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, and Kansas rail supporters, 
While we are frequently critical of the National Association of Rail Passengers (NARP) the below NARP letter is refreshing.  Kudos go out to George Chilson, Bill Hutchison and Jim Loomis for their work on this critical statement.  We hope this means you, the rail supporter, are finally being heard in the hinterlands.
As we alerted three years ago, the Southwest Chief is the most threatened Long Distance train in the nation.  This train runs daily between Amtrak’s Chicago – Kansas City – Albuquerque – Los Angeles with many intermediate stops.  It is the spine upon which many passenger rail expansions depend.  This expansion list includes the following:
Oklahoma City – Tulsa – Joplin – Kansas City (Oklahoma City – Tulsa Regional Economic and Transportation Authority work is progressing)
Oklahoma City – Wichita (Work remains stalled in the planning stages)
Kansas City to Omaha/ Lincoln (Long term vision to create a connection between Southwest Chief (Chicago-LA) and California Zephyr (Chicago-San Francisco) routes)
Albuquerque – Pueblo – Colorado Springs – Denver (Long term Colorado Regional Transportation District goal)
Amtrak Concerns:  Our concern today is not just with Congress, but also Amtrak.  Amtrak has expressed an interest in expanding state supplemental requirements beyond the 750-mile-or-greater Long Distance definition.  Historically Long Distance trains have been funded 100% from Amtrak’s annual federal appropriation.
Amtrak has approached the states of Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico to provide state supplemental funding for the Southwest Chief. (see the attachment for the Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico joint response to Amtrak’s request for state supplemental funding for a Long Distance train)(e-mail us for a copy if it is not included in your e-mail.)  We expect Amtrak to approach the states of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico next year to request state supplemental reroute costs with similar results.  We also anticipate, if non-federal funding is not identified, Amtrak will have made a discontinuance case for the Southwest Chief.
This will set equally as dangerous precedent as that offered by Representative Shuster.  State Supplemental Long Distance represents an unworkable model that will doom Amtrak’s Long Distance network.
More than Just a Long Distance Threat:  Amtrak’s caviler approach threatens more than just Long Distance trains.  For example, the state supplemental Oklahoma City – Fort Worth Heartland Flyer depends upon the federally funded Texas Eagle.  A Texas Eagle discontinuance would doom the Heartland Flyer as it daily transfers 30% of its ridership beyond Fort Worth.
Position Statement:  Our position is that Long Distance trains should remain federally funded due to the interstate nature of their service and round-the-clock operation.  Passenger Rail Oklahoma and our affiliates emphatically encourage NARP to protest the proposed Amtrak Southwest Chief state supplemental policy foray.  This policy states that the states of Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico are responsible for funding $100 million in initial capital rehabilitation of the Newton, KS – La Junta, CO – Albuquerque, NM BNSF Railway Southwest Chief route segment.  The request also includes annual state operational requirements.
NARP Letter to US Representative Bill Shuster:
June 11, 2013
The Honorable Bill Shuster
Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure
U.S. House of Representatives
2165 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Chairman Shuster:
As reported by Politico, your June 6 comments about Amtrak’s long distance trains caused anxiety among our members for it understandably raised the concern that these popular, heavily-used trains could be in jeopardy. We appreciate that you are “not committed to” specific shut-downs. In a similar vein, we appreciated Chairman Denham’s comment at the end of his May 21 hearing that his goal is to make the long distance trains more efficient.
Millions of Americans are already facing a loss of their personal mobility. Airlines are reducing the number of flights and have reduced or discontinued service to literally hundreds of smaller cities. Many older citizens are unable or unwilling to drive their personal automobiles for more than just a few miles; this population will grow dramatically over the next few decades in the U.S., and their needs must be accounted for. An increasing number of young people don’t own automobiles, either as a personal choice or because they are unaffordable. Millions more find flying to be too expensive, too inconvenient or simply too unpleasant.
The National Association of Railroad Passengers believes that these people—and indeed all Americans—have the right to choose

how they travel. We also believe it is a fundamental right that they be able to travel.

Some 173 million Americans – more than half of our total population – live within 25 miles of an Amtrak station that is served by long distance trains. Moreover, in 23 of the lower 48 states, long-distance trains are the only intercity passenger trains. The growth in revenues (up 24.4% from FY 2008 to FY 2012) and ridership on the long-distance trains, that has come in spite of unchanged capacity and aged equipment, is one indication of strong public support for these trains.
As your committee begins its work, we urge you to seek a fresh approach, focusing on legislation that will encourage and support improvement and expansion of the long-distance network.
Most of Amtrak’s long-distance trains are currently at or near capacity—and capacity has not been expanded for decades. We are convinced that both ridership and revenues will continue to improve—if capacity is improved, by some combination of expanding existing trains, adding frequencies and adding routes.
We look forward to working with you on the ongoing passenger rail reauthorization.
Robert Stewart
Ross Capon
President and CEO

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail

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June 2013


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