Amtrak to post matching-grant funds for 'Southwest Chief'

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WASHINGTON — Amtrak has informed federal, state and local officials along the route of the daily Southwest Chief that, with the enactment of the recent full-year funding bill by Congress, it will provide matching funds to enable a federal grant to be awarded for safety and reliability upgrades on the train's route in Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico.

Earlier this month, Congress passed and the President signed into law the [fiscal year] 2019 Appropriations Act, which included critical funding for Amtrak and intercity passenger rail. The legislation set aside at least $50 million of its National Network grant for improvements to the Southwest Chief route. Amtrak is using $3 million of these funds to match a $16 million grant successfully sought by these states, counties and cities and awarded to Colfax County, N.M. The grant and matching funds from the partners will result in an investment of more than $26 million.

Amtrak and BNSF Railway began community discussions regarding needed route safety and other infrastructure improvements in 2011. Since then, more than $80 million has been committed from U.S. Department of Transportation grant programs, state and local governments, Amtrak and BNSF.
Amtrak will use the newly available federal capital funding in coordination with these stakeholders to continue needed work on the next route segment in New Mexico.

Amtrak is also working on a long-term financial plan with our state and local partners to address the unique challenges of this route, particularly where Amtrak is the only user of these BNSF tracks in Colorado and New Mexico.

The Southwest Chief, Amtrak trains 3 and 4, provides a daily service between Chicago and Los Angeles and is the shortest and fastest Amtrak route between those cities.

— An Amtrak news release. Feb. 27, 2019.

Though not mentioned in the press release, Amtrak was aware as early as last fall of the $50 million infrastructure set-aside for the Southwest Chief route in draft language for the 2019 appropriation. But management waited until the long-delayed government funding bill was passed, rather than voluntarily supply its $3 million match to a federal grant that was approved last summer, thus delaying the improvements. In referring to “the unique challenges of this route,” the company hints that although the Chief is a national network train and is getting the $50 million from congress, Amtrak still may ask for some unspecified additional financial help from “our state and local partners,” the same contributors who Amtrak turned its back on when it initially denied the match. — Bob Johnston
— Updated Feb. 27, 2019, 4 p.m. Central time.

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