Washington, D.C. - Thwarting plans to replace a portion of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief service with a bus between Albuquerque and Dodge City saved the economies of New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas from what would have been $180 million in annual losses, according to the findings of a new study by the Rail Passengers Association and the University of Southern Mississippi. Had it gone through, the bus bridge would also have imposed a temporary loss of $135 million in those communities, the study showed.
“Regular and frequent train service has proved to be an economic engine for communities large and small time and again,” said Jim Mathews, president of the Rail Passengers Association, which represents the interests of 40 million riders nationwide.
“This study illustrates not only the damage that would have come from Amtrak’s proposed ‘bus bridge’ for the Chief, but also the real ‘return on investment’ for robust rail funding in both urban and rural communities nationwide," he said.
As the report - "Bustituted: The Socioeconomic Impacts of Replacing Southwest Chief Service Over Raton Pass" - shows, the $180-million economic loss annually would be the result of “permanent direct economic losses” totaling $116.4 million, as well as “permanent indirect losses” of $63.7 million.
Direct losses consist of cancelled operating spending, fewer visitors and lost income from those visitors, and higher travel costs for families that live along the Southwest Chief route.
The indirect losses would be felt through increased pollution control, highway fatalities, increased highway maintenance and forgone trips.
These losses alone are more than three times what Amtrak requests from Congress to operate the entire route of the Southwest Chief, which runs from city to city, through eight states: Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
An additional $135 million in “temporary direct economic losses” would result from the cancelled construction related to Positive Train Control (PTC), a safety technology mandated by the federal government that can remotely monitor and control a train’s speed.
“The bus bridge is not a realistic option for Amtrak passengers and surrounding communities,” said Mathews, of the RPA. “It would create longer travel times and a financial loss for the region.
"It will be critical for lawmakers to take this study into consideration when developing a surface-transportation bill reauthorization in 2019.”
The new study also examined the socio-economic effects of Amtrak implementing a bus bridge. The results are significant as thousands of people who rely on train service for school, work, vacation and even hospital visits would lose easy access.
The overall socio-economic effects include:
32 universities would lose train service;
47 hospitals would lose train service
130,000 induced auto trips, diverted onto roads that are four times more dangerous than the national average; and
Bus-bridge communities have the lowest median income ($35K) of all those served on the Chief route.
When the bus bridge proposal surfaced last year, the Rail Passengers Association commissioned a team of researchers from the University of Southern Mississippi’s Trent Lott National Center to determine how life might change for the people who live, work, visit or study in affected towns. The USM team was led by research professor Dr. Yuanyuan Zhang and the work was supported by funds from the generous bequest of the late George McCallum.
Together, Rail Passengers and USM built a model to account for factors ranging from direct spending to construction, labor, local tax payments and visitation and tourist spending.
The model builds on work done by USM and Transportation for America (T4A), and funded by the Southern Rail Commission (SRC), to quantify the economic benefits of rail service for Gulf Coast communities.
Rail Passengers is indebted to T4A and the SRC for their work on the economic impact of passenger trains. Using our advanced model, the Rail Passengers team will be able to expand on this work on a county-by-county basis on any route in the U.S., or even to help assess the potential value of service in an area not yet served by rail.
The full study and its findings are available online at RailPassengers.org.