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Amtrak vows to keep the Southwest Chief rolling through Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico — at least for another year

The Southwest Chief’s future was in peril because of Amtrak plans to suspend rail service along a section of the route and replace it with buses

Passengers disembark the Southwest Chief in La Junta in March 2018. (Jeff Thomas, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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Amtrak is vowing to keep its historic Southwest Chief train route rolling — as-is — through Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico for at least another year following pressure from Congress.

The national rail carrier was considering suspending rail service between Dodge City, Kan., and Albuquerque, and replacing it with charter buses as early as the start of 2019. That proposition stemmed from what Amtrak says are millions of dollars in needed repairs to a 219-mile section of track between Trinidad and Santa Fe that it can’t afford.

Advocates of the line said busing would put the nail in the Southwest Chief’s coffin by causing a steep drop off in ridership.

But a bipartisan group of U.S. senators from states along the route, including Colorado’s Cory Gardner, a Republican, and Michael Bennet, a Democrat, have been fighting Amtrak against implementing the busing option.

MORE: “It’s just, like, unbelievable”: Amtrak’s Southwest Chief train could be suspended through Colorado

Then, last week, a top Amtrak official told a Senate committee that it is committed to keeping the train going through at least the 2019 fiscal year, which ends in September 2019.

“We plan on running the Southwest Chief as-is through fiscal year 2019,” said

Scot Naparstek, Amtrak’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.

New Mexico U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat, said in an exchange with Naparstek during the committee hearing that he was pleased with the statement, but still wanted more.

“We intended to obviously go well beyond 2019,” Udall said. “But I reiterate the need for Amtrak to work with the communities impacted to create a real plan for the future of the Southwest Chief.

The Senate added an amendment to a major transportation bill giving Amtrak funds to pay for fixes on the 219-mile segment in question and compelling them not to implement the bussing proposal. Amtrak, in a statement, signaled that they heard Congress’ message loud and clear.

“We look forward to seeing how Congress decides to handle the issue,” the statement said. “In the interim, we will continue to engage with all stakeholders in Colorado, Kansas, and New Mexico regarding the Southwest Chief.”

Amtrak officials were set to meet with Southwest Chief stakeholders over the weekend to talk more about the train’s future.

The train runs from Chicago to Los Angeles and makes stops in Colorado at Lamar, La Junta and Trinidad. 

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