Train steam

3/19/2014

More stakeholders engage in quest to save service.

More stakeholders engage in quest to save service.

Officials in New Mexico are pushing forward with an attempt to better determine the potential of keeping Amtrak's Southwest Chief on its current route, which includes a stop in Garden City.

New Mex ico's recently-signed budget includes a plan for the state's Legislative Council Service to study a proposal for New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas to share the costs of maintaining and improving more than 600 miles of track through those states.

Deteriorating track conditions in south-central and southwest Kansas now force the Southwest Chief to slow down, leaving Amtrak with the prospect of re-routing the daily passenger train south of Newton and on through Texas to New Mexico if funding sources for track repairs aren't identified. Amtrak's operating agreement with Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which owns the track, expires in 2016.

The passenger rail service makes each community on its route more appealing in helping a variety of travelers. Lower-income residents and college students are among those who depend on the affordable, convenient service.

Amtrak reported more than 7,300 passengers at the Garden City station in its fiscal year 2013.

To maintain the current route, Amtrak proposed that Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico share costs of the track maintenance and upgrades with Amtrak and BNSF. The plan called for the states to each provide $4 million annually for a decade.

It's important to know how communities and their states could work together on a solution. As state Rep. John Doll, R-Garden City, said during Saturday's legislative coffee: "We need to keep the Chief here."

City officials also are on board with attempts to preserve the service.

The Garden City Commission, during a recent discussion of goals, called advocating for Amtrak service a priority. The governing body will look to be represented at the next summit of officials from the three affected states.

While there's still nothing concrete in terms of a possible fix — and we do need to hear more regarding support from the state of Kansas — it's at least encouraging to know some officials won't let Amtrak service slip away without a fight to keep it on track.

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