Passenger Rail Kansas membership looks to the future of regional passenger rail. We support state and regional passenger rail expansion while promoting Southwest Chief train travel.

Southwest Chief Update:

Southwest Chief funding derailed in [Colorado] Senate This story from the Pueblo Chieftain shows just how difficult it is to fund long distance Amtrak services at a state level. Despite Colorado strong community and county support the legislature remains fickle.

Southwest Chief Recent History:

We want to provide a history of what has happened over the past several years as a benchmark of what is to come... The train seems safe for now so get out and ride!

Initiative. A multi-year effort by informed advocates has served notice to communities and states; pay attention! Amtrak seemed ready to allow the route to wither and die. Why? So Southwest Chief federal funding could be sent to repair portions of the Boston-New York City- Philadelphia-Washington D.C. Northeast Corridor.

The Warning. The warning was signaled by columnist Fred Frailey of Trains magazine around 2009. Frailey indicated the BNSF Railway had imposed a 60-mph speed restriction between roughly Hutchinson, KS and Las Animias Jct, CO. Soon after slow orders started piling up.

It was also around this time the BNSF Railway offered a reroute through Wichita, northwest Oklahoma, and Amarillo. Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman stated, "We are not moving." I believe the BNSF offer was quickly and silently withdrawn after Boardman's proclamation.

Deferred Maintenance. At the time of the 1995 Burlington Northern Santa Fe merger, this railroad had active Automatic Train Stop (ATS). ATS allowed 90-mph operation over jointed rail. It was called "The Racetrack." Prior to FRA speed restrictions, passenger trains were allowed to run faster than 100-mph on the flat Kansas-Colorado prairie.

Sal Pace Colorado SW Chief Commissioner. The key individual that brought about this agreement has been Sal Pace, Pueblo County Commissioner and Colorado Southwest Chief Commissioner. Prior to his involvement, the states and communities took for granted Amtrak's ridiculous $40 million split. It is believed this was never vetted through the BNSF.

This split championed by Amtrak was as follows. All five parties, BNSF, Amtrak, Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico were to over a span of I believe five to ten years raise $200 million.
Pace negotiated Colorado's share down to $8.2 million. The Garden City TIGER grant and matching funding from many communities and organizations netted $22 million. The Garden City aware was crucial. The worst track is located where freight still operates. This is in western Kansas and southeastern Colorado. New Mexico track I understand is not that bad.

Pueblo Reroute. Pace also indicated Colorado funding was contingent on a the Pueblo reroute. The track is already there. I am supportive of this. Projected boarding and alighting figures will be in the neighborhood of 15,000 per year. It will set the Southwest Chief on better financial ground. It is also practical as long as the BNSF Railway plays fair with capital requirements.

Pueblo is a community of 107,000. A Pueblo reroute would place the Southwest Chief closer to an eventual Colorado Front range corridor including Colorado Springs and Denver. Imagine the New Mexico Rail Runner Express reaching Denver.

Because most Amtrak passengers do not travel the entire length of the route, the reroute would not unduly affect the schedule. The entire length of the reroute would be around 140 miles. However, it loses no stations and cuts out about 70 miles where no stops are made today between La Junta and Trinidad, CO. So simple math shows a 70 mile route increase.

Governor Bill Richardson A Pueblo reroute would open up a new chapter in New Mexico/Colorado advocacy. Governor Bill Richardson's New Mexico Rail Runner Express plan, maybe unstated but worthy of consideration, may have been to expand a corridor between Denver-Colorado Springs-Pueblo-Albuquerque-El Paso. Unfortunately, Governor Martinez does not share his passion for Passenger Rail.

High Speed Rail (HSR) has been discussed over the Denver El Paso route. Current political impediments exist for such it is a worthy goal. I believe HSR is years off for this corridor. However, consider the Front Range traffic on I-25. This is a very viable commuter corridor, especially between Pueblo and Denver. A Pueblo reroute makes this more practical.

Other Reroute Stops. Other communities could be considered beyond just Pueblo for the reroute. Walsenburg, about 45 miles from Pueblo and 40 miles from Trinidad is considered a prime stop has been mentioned.

Keep watching the Ball! Join us at Passenger Rail Kansas and Oklahoma Texas Missouri Kansas Passenger Rail for more information and news!


INTRODUCTION: The possibility the Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas corridor (TOK-Corridor) will be developed is highly unlikely, at least for the next 10 to 20 years. The region has missed its window. Government claims their hands are tied. The following is offered as evidence:

1) EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE: Kansas Governor Brownback has shown negativity to the project. As a US Senator he issued this letter to a constituent:

2) EXECUTIVE POLICY: The Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT), is a statutory agency under Governor Brownback's administration, meaning they will defer to his policy. Only veto-proof legislation or a massive campaign to convince the Kansas executive to change his mind will change regional fortunes.

3) HIGHWAYS RULE: The Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) represents a highway-centric industry and culture. The same is true of the other plains states DOTs. The need for passenger rail has not been recognized. Kansas legislative project recognition is tepid at best.

4) HSIPR EXHAUSTED: The High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) program that would fund the TOK-Corridor expansion has not received federal funding since 2010. In 2009 it was provided $8 billion through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Congress provided another $2.4 billion.


5) LENGTHY TIMELINE: The Parsons-Brinckerhoff Service Development Plan (SDP) completed in December 2011 shows a minimum six year schedule to complete just the 197 mile expansion to Newton, KS. Note: even if funding for these studies shown was available, it would be two years before the three states could apply for federal matching funding.

Parsons-Brinckerhoff SDP:

6) KDOT SINGLE POINT OF CONTACT: The Oklahoma and the Texas Departments of Transportation (ODOT & TxDOT) turned over project initiative to KDOT. In other words, KDOT is driving the project. Again, it will require veto-proof legislation to continue even the study process with Kansas Governor Brownback in office. The next step is an environmental clearance, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The City of Wichita has now issued a TIGER VI grant request for a NEPA study. KDOT has been unwilling since 2010 to fund such. The 2013 TIGER grant was not approved.

7) KANSAS LEGISLATURE-STALLED: The Kansas legislature has not considered any legislation since the Kansas Passenger Rail Development Act was signed by Governor Parkinson in 2010. While Senate and House transportation committee meetings and interim studies have addressed passenger rail, little no official legislative action has been taken.

8) UNDEFINED PROCESS: Our understanding is that only after an operational decision is made, and NEPA funding is provided, will any further project progress continue. Will Governor Brownback allow this? Will the Kansas legislature challenge Governor Brownback? This has to happen before further progress can occur.

9) MORE STUDIES: FONSI represents 'Finding Of No Significant Impact.' What this entails and the cost is unknown. However; it is another delay in addition to the Preliminary Engineering and Final Design stages which would follow.

10) REALISTICALLY 10 TO 12 YEARS: Even with a supportive government (Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas governors, legislatures, state DOTs) this plan represents more realistically a 10 to 12 year timeline. Many legislative steps remain in this process. The Texas Legislature is a biennial body. They do not meet in 2013. Funding of even the listed studies will be an issue due to regional budget crises. There has to be a better way.

SUMMARY: The negativity in Kansas is being well played by ODOT. By playing hands off, KDOT is allowed to use anti-passenger rail sentiment in the executive branch to slow the process. Needless to say, the Kansas effort needs a champion to take an aggressive position.

Much of the delay has to do with the intensely complex federal grant process. KDOT seems to be using this complex process to study the project into oblivion. Lengthen a study by a month or two; hesitate just long enough within a legislative session and you can drag a process on indefinitely.

Executive Director
Passenger Rail Kasnas

While a US Senator, now Kansas Governor Sam Brownback issued a letter stating he is opposed to Amtrak expansion in Kansas:

Click on the letter...


“[U]biquitouspassenger rail service is not necessarily the best use of transportation funds. The overwhelming majority of Kansans rely on our state highway system and freight rail… which is why I believe we should focus our limited resources funding these programs.” ...U.S. Senator (now Kansas Governor) Sam Brownback

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