Senators to Amtrak's Anderson: Keep investing in 'Chief' route

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The Southwest Chief descends Raton Pass in 2012.
Bob Johnston
WASHINGTON – Shortly after the U.S. Senate passed by a 95-4 margin a “sense of Congress” amendment to a fiscal 2019 transportation funding bill urging Amtrak to maintain its national route system, a bipartisan group of 10 Senators sent a letter to Amtrak President Richard Anderson.

The letter renews a demand legislators expressed in the media and public hearings that the company follow through with a $3 million match to an already-approved $16 million federal Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery grant. It goes a step further by insisting Amtrak also apply for Southwest Chief route capital funding that could come from the $318 million Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement program.

“Replacing train service through rural communities with buses is troubling, particularly for a quasi-governmental entity entrusted with an important public transportation mission,” the letter states, adding, “The suspension of service along the Southwest Chief route raises serious questions as to whether passenger rail service will be eliminated in rural communities across the country. The connectivity is vital to the people and communities” because it is “the only affordable alternative to highways for many of our citizens and is a critical link to public and private services in larger cities along the route for rural residents.”

A meeting in which Anderson unveiled the bus bridge idea without discussing its negative revenue or ridership impact [see "Passenger," "Battle lines drawn over Chief proposal," September Trains] was attended by Colorado, and New Mexico Senators from both parties. This letter is signed by all of those lawmakers plus four Democrats from the Chief’s endpoint states, Illinois (Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth) and California (Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris).

Other than urging, “prompt attention to this matter,” the letter to Anderson does not spell out any course of action the Senators plan to take if Amtrak decides to implement its bus bridge plan. But coupled with the recently-passed amendment emphasizing who holds Amtrak’s purse strings, it makes clear what the lawmakers expect from the passenger operator.
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