Travel time

9/7/2013

Flights and train service offer choices for patrons.

Flights and train service offer choices for patrons.

The city's push for change in air service is paying off.

Boarding numbers at Garden City Regional Airport have soared since the April 2012 launch of American Eagle service to Dallas.

The local airport previously offered service to Kansas City and Denver, yet often struggled to meet the 10,000 annual passenger boardings required to land significant federal funding for airport maintenance and repairs. This year, GCRA is on course to eclipse 20,000 enplanements.

While the change in air service was a winner, a cloud of uncertainty hovers over another popular mode of transportation out of Garden City.

Amtrak draws a steady stream of passengers heading east and west on the Southwest Chief between Chicago and Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the popular route is in jeopardy.

Deteriorating track conditions in south-central and southwest Kansas force the train to slow down, leaving Amtrak to possibly re-route the daily passenger train south of Newton and on through Texas to New Mexico if funding sources for costly track repairs aren't identified.

Even though jet service out of Garden City offers many good options, Amtrak expands the possibilities for local travelers. Having direct train service to Kansas City, for example, fills a void for some who would have flown there with the previous air carrier.

Officials from affected communities, Garden City included, know affordable passenger rail service helps many travelers. Requests for state and federal assistance haven't panned out.

The next step on their drive toward a favorable outcome will take them to Pueblo, Colo., where community leaders from towns on the Southwest Chief route will join representatives of Amtrak and other transportation agencies in a discussion on ways to keep the current service on track.

If the city hadn't sought change at the local airport, it might have experienced setbacks in lost federal funding and a decline of the facility. City officials helped ward off such fallout, and the community is better off as a result.

While it's good to see a busier airport, the hope is we'll soon celebrate a local success story regarding the future of passenger rail service, as well.

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