Senate passes transportation bill including amendment to maintain 'Southwest Chief'

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Southwest Chief service over Raton Pass must be maintained by Amtrak, according to an amendment to the transportation bill passed by the Senate on Wednesday.
Bob Johnston

WASHINGTON — An amendment to maintain service along Amtrak’s Southwest Chief route passed the U.S. Senate on Wednesday as part of the 2018 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill.

The appropriations bill passed on a 92-6 vote.

The amendment by Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Tom Udall, D-N.M., provides $50 million for maintenance and improvements along the Chief route, and compels Amtrak to fulfill its promise of matching funds for the grant won by Colfax County, Colo., to maintain and upgrade the route. [See “Amtrak contribution to ‘Southwest Chief’ grant comes with conditions,” Trains News Wire, April 2, 2018.] According to a press release from Moran’s office, it also “would effectively reverse” a proposal by Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson to substitute bus service for a large portion of the Chief’s route. [See “Raton Pass may lose the ‘Southwest Chief,’ " Trains News Wire, June 22, 2018.]

“I applaud the bipartisan efforts to keep the Southwest Chief operational for our rural communities,” Moran said in the press release, “and will continue working with Amtrak to make certain this route remains available for the Kansans who need it.”

Udall was quoted in the release as saying, ““For the second time in two weeks, the Senate is speaking out with strong, bipartisan support for long-distance rail, especially the Southwest Chief -- and this time with $50 million in new funding, Replacing rail service with bus service between Dodge City, Kansas and Albuquerque, New Mexico would not only have completely disrupted service for Amtrak passengers, it would have discouraged riders from taking the Southwest Chief in the first place, adding to Amtrak’s financial problems.”

The bill was cosponsored by Sens. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Michael F. Bennet, D-Colo.

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