Passenger Rail Kansas is a grass roots advocacy organization, dedicated to the preservation and expansion of service in Kansas and the surrounding region.
Internal Amtrak Threats to Southwest Chief Operation Emerge
May 13, 2018
On March 9, 2018 Colfax County, New Mexico received notification from the USDOT of its successful Southwest Chief Route Stabilization Project (SWCRSP) TIGER Grant request. The grant award is slated to plow $16 million in federal funds into the project, but there is a catch. Unlike prior SWCRSP awards (Garden City in 2014 and La Junta in 2015), Amtrak attached strings to its promised $3 million match.
According to a Trains Magazine report, Amtrak contribution to 'Southwest Chief' grant comes with conditions, by Bob Johnston, dated April 4, 2018, Amtrak Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer William N. Feidt indicated Amtrak’s promised match is conditional. Amtrak’s letter attached to the grant application included the following requirement:
“Before Amtrak will fulfill this contribution, a comprehensive financial plan and accompanying commitments by relevant states and BNSF for the remainder of the infrastructure investments and associated maintenance costs for this route in New Mexico must be completed.”
Retired Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman publicly criticized Amtrak’s new executive staff. In the same Trains Magazine article He stated, “One of the things I learned working on these kinds of things, is that if you fail to move when you have an opportunity to move, you’re probably going to fail to get this done.”
Boardman has continued his criticism since the Trains article. He penned his own opinion published in Railway Age Magazine May 10, 2018 Amtrak: Where is the public input? Where is the transparency? He accused Amtrak executive staff of “weaponizing” safety to attack Amtrak’s network of fifteen long distance trains, including the Southwest Chief. New Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson has threatened to discontinue operations of any Amtrak operated train over routes where Positive Train Control is not installed and operating. This means the Southwest Chief could make its last run in December.
Anderson also stated his desire to refocus Amtrak structure on routes of between 300 to 400-miles in length. His visibly annoyed answer to comments are available in an April 19, 2018 question and answer session at the California Passenger Rail Summit. (audio link – Anderson’s comments begin at 1:46:00)
Amtrak’s Southwest Chief serves Kansas nightly with stops in Lawrence, Topeka, Newton, Hutchinson, Dodge City and Garden City. The route operates between Chicago and Los Angeles through Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
Contact information for Kansas’s Washington D.C. delegation is included on the GovTrack website: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members/KS
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