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Republican U.S. senator holds up three Amtrak board nominees over future of Southwest Chief train through Colorado

Colorado was at risk of losing its Southwest Chief stops in Lamar, La Junta and Trinidad

Passengers disembark the Southwest Chief in La Junta in March 2018. (Jeff Thomas, Special to The Colorado Sun)

TOPEKA, Kan. — U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran is putting pressure on Amtrak to commit to the continued operation of the Southwest Chief passenger rail service that connects Chicago to Los Angeles with stops in Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico.

Moran recently delayed confirming three nominees to Amtrak’s board of directors in an effort to push the national rail carrier to offer assurances that the line will operate for at least another year, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

Amtrak’s president, Richard Anderson, agreed to meet with Moran and other lawmakers about the rail service’s future later this month.

Amtrak officials considered suspending rail service from Dodge City to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and transitioning to buses last year. That would have cost the Colorado towns of Lamar, La Junta and Trinidad their passenger train service stops along the route.

Advocates of the Southwest Chief feared the bussing option was simply a way to phase out the historic train, driving away passengers. The route is key to Colorado’s exploration of plans for Front Range passenger train service.

The idea stemmed from the cost of repairs needed along a portion of the line.

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

The Republican senator was behind a federal budget compromise approved by Congress — and negotiated in part by Colorado’s congressional delegation — in February that provides an additional $50 million to go toward maintenance and safety improvements of the Southwest Chief line.

Discussions in Congress about extending funding are ongoing.

“As the divide between urban communities and rural communities in America continues to expand, passenger rail services, like the Southwest Chief, are necessary in connecting Kansans to the rest of the country,” Moran said. “I am continuing to seek assurances from Amtrak that it will uphold its commitment to repair, improve and continue the Southwest Chief rail line.”

Moran and a group of lawmakers also sent Amtrak officials a letter requesting information about the route. Last year’s ridership information hasn’t been made available yet.

More than 52,000 passengers boarded the Southwest Chief line in Kansas in 2017, which was an increase of 2,700 people from the previous year.

Colorado Sun staff writer Jesse Paul contributed to this report.