Lawmakers ask Amtrak to fund Southwest Chief project, request meeting with CEO

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New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich, right, greets then-Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman during an Amtrak inspection trip of the Southwest Chief route in July 2014.
Bob Johnston

WASHINGTON — Continuing to pressure Amtrak about its plans to fund work on the route of the Southwest Chief, a group of legislators has written Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson, urging the passenger railroad to uphold its part of a funding agreement and asking for a meeting with Anderson to discuss issues related to the Chief.

Amtrak has pledged $3 million in matching funds to go with a recent federal grant to maintaining the portion of the BNSF Railway route used only by the Chief, but has placed conditions on its pledge that must be met before the passenger carrier will provide the funds. [See “Amtrak contribution to ‘Southwest Chief’ grant comes with conditions,”  Trains News Wire, April 4, and “Amtrak letter explains position on ‘Southwest Chief,'” Trains News Wire, May 8]

“The Southwest Chief is vital to the economic well-being of our communities,” the letter states. “In many cases, the line is the only affordable alternative transportation option to the highways for our citizens, and is an important link to public and private services along the route for rural residents, including the elderly and disabled.”

The letter, released Thursday, is signed by U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrick (D-N.M.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), as well as U.S. Reps. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.)

“The lack of transparency by Amtrak management about its changing position on the Southwest Chief is troubling, particularly for a government-sponsored enterprise entrusted with an important public transportation mission,” the letter continues. “We request Amtrak take the lead in developing cooperate plans to ensure the Southwest Chief’s successful operation, including seeking funds from the various federal grant programs established to address these specific issues.”

The complete text of the letter is available in a press release on Sen. Heinrick’s website.

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