Present situation hot topic

City Manager Rick Klein of La Junta was one of the local leaders invited to the special meeting of Amtrak officials, Burlington Northern/Santa Fe Railroad, and local officials in Raton last week. Klein was out of the office after the meeting last week, but was available for comment the next week. As we would expect from his tireless efforts on behalf of the Southwest Chief, he regards the bus proposal as a no-starter and totally agrees with former Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman, who has visited La Junta several times. Klein believes a plan can be worked out with BNSF and Amtrak by which $3 million required to start TIGER IX ($25.5 million in all) can be attained. Klein said, “The federal government is on our side. We saw the overwhelming vote of the Senate to amend the transportation bill to release the TIGER IX money. When have you ever seen that overwhelming cooperation among Democrats, Republicans and Independents? The vote was 95-6.” This will have to be affirmed by the House to make it actually happen, and everyone has been requested to contact his representative in the House. The very future of Southeastern Colorado and Northern New Mexico depends upon it. “When the grassroots speak out, Congress listens,” said Klein. Further, “The rebuilding of La Castaneda in Las Vegas is under way, but the train connection is vital for its existence. The economy of the region is at stake.”      
Sal Pace of Pueblo and the Southwest Chief Committee, including Klein and officials of both BNSF and Amtrak, are trying to extend the line northward to Colorado Springs and Denver, with a connection to the California Zephyr, easing the burden on I-25. The rapidly increasing population of the metropolitan areas has put enormous stress on the interstate highway.

Trains Magazine Reporter Bob Johnston reported on August 27: “Amtrak will not operate passenger trains on lines without positive train control after Dec. 31, 2018, a top official for the passenger railroad says - a decision which could lead to the discontinuance of eight trains, not just the Southwest Chief.” These trains would include portions of the Southwest Chief , the Cardinal, the California Zephyr, the Texas Eagle, the Downeaster, the Vermonter, the Ethan Allen, and the City of New Orleans. Exemptions have previously been extended to all these lines, and no funding has been made available for installing PTC, which in each case was decided to be unnecessary because of low traffic on the lines. In the case of the Southwest Chief, only Train 3 and 4 run on the tracks, plus the Roadrunner from Albuquerque to Santa Fe.

On August 29, Carl Fowler writes, in reference to his own concern for the Vermonter: “Indeed Amtrak knows there is no funding for the unneeded PTC on the SW Chief route and is moving ahead to replace the train with a bus right in the middle of its journey, for 550 miles/10 hours 45 minutes driving time from Dodge City, KS to Albuquerque. Stub trains would remain from Chicago overnight to Dodge City and Albuquerque overnight to Los Angeles.

“If they insist on this in the SW Chief case, how long will it be before we face similar suggestions that a 5 hour bus ride to Springfield could serve as a ‘bridge’ to the rump of the Vermonter route?”

The meeting, which occurred on August 25, consisted of he Amtrak and BNSF officials with 40 officials of towns and cities who have already invested millions in matching funds for TIGER grants to strengthen the railroads that carry the Southwest Chief. The railroad officials held a premeeting at 11 a.m. before the scheduled meeting at 12 p.m., and was reported by various officials attending the meeting to have introduced a plan to offer bus service between the cut-off  sections of the Southwest Chief. Klein said, “The bus option is a no-starter.”

In an article dated August 28, Trains Industry Newsletter, Reporter Bob Johnston interviewed Joe Boardman, former CEO of Amtrak. Writes Johnston, quoting Boardman, referring to the bus bridge idea, “It is unacceptable nonsense. It's time to move on and provide customer and stakeholder service and commitment. It’s creating an unprofessional situation for Amtrak that is reprehensible and unsustainable in the eyes of Congress and Dodge and Garden City, Kansas; La Junta and Trinidad Colorado; Raton, and Las Vegas, New Mexico; BNSF Railroad employees, Private Car owners, and even the United States Marine Corps. And those disgusted stakeholders are only the tip of the problems.” The United State Marine Corps reference alludes to Amtrak’s refusal to carry children’s Christmas presents collected by the Marine Corps.