Track plan: Cooperation promises to help fuel rail line improvements

7/12/2014

Officials haven't given up on the Southwest Chief.

Officials haven't given up on the Southwest Chief.

The future of the Amtrak train's daily run through Garden City became clouded when news of uncertainty over the current route materialized a few years ago.

Deteriorating track conditions in south-central and southwest Kansas forced the Southwest Chief to slow down, which meant Amtrak faced the possibility of re-routing the passenger train south of Newton and on through Texas to New Mexico if funding sources for track repairs weren't identified.

That left communities in Kansas and other states affected by the possible change scrambling to save the popular service.

They're close. On Friday, a group of officials from BNSF, Amtrak and the Kansas Department of Transportation took to the Southwest Chief as a way to deliver an encouraging update.

During a stop in Garden City, they discussed the possibility of a Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery grant to help fund needed track repairs. The $24.5 million grant would include more than $9 million in matching funds, and restore 54.9 miles of track between Hutchinson and Las Animas, Colo.

While a previous TIGER grant proposal was rejected, Kansas Secretary of Transportation Mike King said the latest request looks more promising because KDOT, BNSF and Amtrak committed to providing matching funds: $4 million from Amtrak, $3 million from the KDOT and $2 million from BNSF. Cities along the route also agreed to chip in varying amounts.

It's a sensible investment. The affordable, convenient passenger rail service makes each community on its route more appealing by helping a variety of travelers. Track improvements also will benefit busy freight traffic on the rail line.

Support from the states involved and the federal government appeared out of reach at times, so it's good to see the cooperation. Such deals between federal, state and local entities don't come about every day, after all.

In this instance, they're closing in on a solution intended to help communities involved maintain important connections that benefit local quality of life, as well as economic development initiatives.

Preservation of Amtrak's current Southwest Chief route would be a prime example of such.

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