Three states see Southwest Chief renovations

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman visited Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico last week, along the Southwest Chief route, showing his appreciation of local, state and federal partners for their support of Amtrak and BNSF Railway efforts that began last October to improve passengers’ experiences.

The three states received millions of dollars in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants from the United States Department of Transportation in 2014 and 2015.

BNSF Railway Executive Chairman Matt Rose, Interim Kansas Transportation Secretary Richard Carlson and several additional mayors and state transportation officials rode along for portions of the tour of the route—an Amtrak passenger line that runs daily between Chicago and Los Angeles.

While the route still technically met the requirements of freight traffic, railway engineers said it would soon have failed to meet the increased standards of passenger trains if the work had not been completed swiftly.

In 2012, Amtrak and BNSF acknowledged deteriorating infrastructure that would have otherwise caused Amtrak to detour or terminate the Southwest Chief service and slow BNSF freight speeds had the concerns not been addressed in 2015. Andy Williams, spokesman for BNSF, says end-batter was the primary defect on the jointed rail.

Successful grant applications from Garden City, Kan., and La Junta, Colo., have since yielded $27.6 million in federal TIGER funding in the past two years.

“Since my service as Amtrak CEO began in 2008, Amtrak and BNSF have worked together to match federal grants with investments from both of our railroads, states and towns,” Boardman said.

In 2014, Garden City was awarded a $12.4 million TIGER grant, which was combined with $9.3 million of private, local and state funding to renovate nearly 47 of the 158 miles of bolted rail sections between Pierceville, Kan., and Las Animas, Colo., to Class 4 condition. The restoration allows for Amtrak speeds as fast as 79 mph. The project was also meant to bring continuous welded rail, new grade crossings and turnouts.

La Junta received a TIGER award of $15.2 million to restore the BNSF La Junta Subdivision in Colorado, as reported Oct. 27, 2015. The funding was also intended to mend over 20 miles of roadbed with new ties and ballast on New Mexico’s Albuquerque Subdivision and add 39 miles of new continuously welded rail.

When matching state and community support, contributions of $8 million from Amtrak, $4 million from BNSF and more from other communities combined with the $12.4 million in TIGER grants, totaling $46.2 million to replace 127 miles of old rails and ties between Hutchinson, Kan., and Waldo, New Mexico.

BNSF is also expected to maintain the track at a maximum speed of 79 mph for Amtrak and 60 mph for freight trains where the jointed rail has been substituted. The replacement rail was installed by BNSF crews and is from a Pueblo, Colo., plant.

Boardman also noted that the leadership and problem-solving strategies used regarding the Amtrak Southwest Chief route in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico and North Dakota’s Amtrak Empire Builder route have encouraged collaboration to find appropriate solutions for maintaining the tracks.

Officials say more grant funding is necessary to approach future renovations over the Raton Pass on the same route in New Mexico, the steepest and tallest BNSF crossing of the Rocky Mountains, and further to reach Lamy, near Santa Fe.

Research by Amtrak for a Colorado state commission also reveals the benefits of an Amtrak service that would connect the Southwest Chief at La Junta, Colo., with Pueblo.












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