'Southwest Chief' route wins federal grant

RELATED TOPICS: AMTRAK | INFRASTRUCTURE
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SWChief_Lamy_BJohnston
The eastbound Southwest Chief passes semaphore signals as it approaches Levy, N.M., in July 2014.
Bob Johnston

RATON, N.M. — The U.S. Department of Transportation will award a significant grant to maintain the route of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.

The department announced it will be providing a $16 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant to Colfax County, N.M., according to an announcement made by U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.).

The money will be matched with up to $9.2 million of funds pledged by Amtrak ($3 million), BNSF Railway ($3 million), plus the states of Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico ($1 million each), 17 cities and counties along the Southwest Chief route, the Colorado Rail Passenger Association, and the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners, Inc.

According to the application, the nearly $25 million raised by the federal grant and coalition partner match will be used to “install 24,000 new ties in the 200 miles between Lamy, N.M., and Trinidad, Colo., to preserve the integrity of the line and keep train speeds at their current levels.” Work will also include replacement of the final 17-mile segment of legacy Santa Fe Railway semaphore signaling, “restoring passing sidings and culverts, and addressing rock slide issues at Devils Throne.” The route west of Trinidad has been without any regular BNSF Railway freight traffic since 2008.

The award marks the third TIGER grant that a member of the Southwest Chief Coalition has won since the group was formed in 2011 to spearhead rehabilitation of tracks used by the Chicago-Los Angeles Amtrak train. Previous federal funding was secured on behalf of the Coalition by Garden City, Kan., City Manager Matt Allen, and La Junta, Colo., City Manager Rick Klein. Those grants helped replace rail and resurface the roadbed in western Kansas and eastern Colorado. Colfax County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bill Sauble sponsored the latest request.

Colorado Rail Passenger Association President Jim Souby tells Trains News Wire that he believes New Mexico county involvement was a key component in winning the grant, as well as the fact that so many communities “had skin in the game.” These include Maxwell, N.M. (population 254), where the Chief doesn’t stop, and offline Cimarron, N.M, home of the Philmont Boy Scout Ranch, the destination for many of the Southwest Chief’s passengers who take the train to and from Raton.

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