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Gardner, Bennet find money to keep Amtrak’s Southwest Chief train rolling

Author: Joey Bunch - August 2, 2018 - Updated: August 3, 2018

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Amtrak’s Southwest Chief makes a stop in LaJunta in southeast Colorado. (Photo by David Wilson courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The Southwest Chief passenger train should continue to roll across the West thanks to a Senate appropriations bill led by Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner on Wednesday.

Amtrak had been considering replacing parts of the train route with bus services. The transportation appropriations bill would include $50 million for track maintenance and safety on the Southwest Chief’s route, but it requires Amtrak provide matching money to maintain the rail line in Colorado.

Since 1974, the Southwest Chief line has provided daily rail service across the 2,265 miles between Chicago and Los Angeles, with 31 stops in eight states. The train pulls into Lamar, La Junta and Trinidad and in Colorado.

The bipartisan Senate appropriations bill was co-sponsored by Kansas Sens. Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts, along with New Mexico Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich.

“The amendment secured by the bipartisan coalition in the appropriations bill will set aside funding for route improvements and enhancements, providing the opportunity to ensure the Southwest Chief stays in Colorado and continues servicing the rural areas that desperately need it,” Gardner said in a statement.

Bennet called the train a cog in Colorado’s tourism economy.

“We will do all we can to preserve it,” he said. “We’ll continue to work closely with lawmakers from Colorado — and also New Mexico and Kansas — to keep running the Southwest Chief through our state.”

Colorado is hoping to expand the Southwest Chief. Last year the legislature created a task force to look at hooking up the Front Range passenger rail with the coast-to-coast line.

Gardner and Bennet signed a letter with other senators to Amtrak president and CEO Richard Anderson last month, reminding him that Congress created Amtrak in 1970 to maintain passenger rail across America as a vital alternative to highways.

“Replacing train service through rural communities with buses is troubling, particularly for a quasi-government entity entrusted with an important transportation mission,” they wrote. “The suspension of rail service along the Southwest Chief line raises serious questions as to whether passenger rail service will be eliminated in rural communities across the country.”

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.