Friday, April 6, 2012

Communities Organizing to Keep Amtrak’s Southwest Chief

Many Amtrak passengers are surprised to learn that almost all the track actually owned by Amtrak is along the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington. Anywhere else across the U.S., their train is traveling on track owned by one of the major freight railroads.

There are ongoing and inherent problems from this arrangement, mostly passenger trains running behind schedule because dispatchers – employees of the freight railroads – have given priority to their company’s slower-moving freights.

But another, bigger problem is emerging and is affecting Amtrak’s popular Southwest Chief, which runs daily in both directions between Chicago and Los Angeles, mostly on track owned by the BNSF, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad. A long stretch of that track, some 300 miles between Trinidad, Colorado, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, needs to be upgraded. BNSF doesn’t use it very much and certainly doesn’t want to spend a lot of money repairing it just for the Chief.

So some years back, the State of New Mexico made a deal to buy the track from BNSF and assume responsibility for maintaining it. That was when Bill Richardson, a Democrat, was governor. Ah, but there’s another governor now, Susana Martinez. She's a Republican, and you know what that means: she’s against rail and, furthermore, she is trying to renege on the deal. That possibility has been enough to raise serious questions about the future of the Chief – at least along that portion of its route.

Amtrak wants to keep running the Chief – as noted, it’s one of their most popular trains – and has suggested an alternate route. But that would bypass a number of cities and towns along its traditional route, including Lamy, NM (the stop for tourists visiting Santa Fe and Taos), not to mention some spectacular scenery as the train crosses from Colorado into New Mexico over the Raton Pass.

Mayors, other public officials, chambers of commerce and rail-oriented organizations are up in arms, combining their efforts and contributing funds to keep the Chief on its current route … a genuine, spontaneous grassroots support for trains.

Yo … Governor Martinez! Please … set aside your conservative ideology for once and listen to the people. You know what? They want the Chief! They want trains!


Anonymous said...

The alternate route is arguably better, because it would actually go through much larger cities (Amarillo, TX and Wichita, KS) -- but for some reason those cities are not clamoring for service and raising money to build train stations.

Sigh. I guess they don't realize what they're missing

JIM LOOMIS said...

Understood ... but it would be hard to give up the traditional route which,as I'm sure you know, parallels the original Santa Fe Trail for quite a few miles.