Hot SheetTransportation

Some fear Amtrak is backtracking on the Southwest Chief

Author: Kara Mason - May 25, 2018 - Updated: May 25, 2018

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Amtrak’s Southwest Chief passes the Devil’s Throne near Los Cerrillos, New Mexico. (Martin Matlack for Amtrak)

Amtrak’s former chief executive is sounding the alarm that the Southwest Chief passenger-rail route, which has tracks in Colorado, New Mexico and Kansas, may be at risk as the agency makes cuts on the long-distance line.

Joe Boardman, who retired from Amtrak in 2016, told the Pueblo Chieftain last week the issue is one that Congress should pick up.

The paper’s longtime political reporter Peter Roper quotes Boardman as follows:

We need Congress to intervene and restate what our national policy is on passenger rail service It’s always been to have a national rail service, not just passenger trains in the Northeast corridor. It can’t be that taxpayers subsidize train service for commuters in the Northeast and the rest of the country does without.

The Southwest Chief line runs from Chicago to Los Angeles with stops across the southwest, including La Junta and Trinidad. Kansas, New Mexico and Colorado state and local lawmakers have been hard at work trying to preserve the line the last couple of years. Some hope it could eventually extend to Pueblo.

The three states combined have worked together to raise more than $70 million to update the line.

But it’s seen cuts. La Junta’s city manager Rick Klein told Roper he started growing concerned when the company said it would shut down 40 ticket offices on the line.

Klein organized a protest of sorts earlier this month at the station just off of Highway 50 in La Junta. The local newspaper there reported that a dozen or so citizens greeted a train on its way West with signs urging the Southwest Chief be saved.

The cuts along the line are an added punch to the news that the company, now headed up by former Delta Airlines executive Richard Anderson, wouldn’t match a $3 million grant to upgrade some of the track in the region.

Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace told the paper it’s Anderson who is threatening to “unravel all this work.”

Amtrak declined to give the Chieftain a comment, but did say in an earlier letter to a New Mexico county ridership is at around 364,000 passengers and declining.

Last week U.S. Sen. Cory Garnder pressed Joseph Gruters, a new nominee to the Amtrak board, on the grant.

Kara Mason

Kara Mason

Kara Mason covers southern Colorado, Aurora and statewide issues for ColoradoPolitics.com. She also writes for the Aurora Sentinel.