- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 30, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - A coalition of communities and private organizations in western Kansas and southern Colorado has pledged to provide $9 million to keep Amtrak’s Southwest Chief passenger line on its current route through those areas and northern New Mexico.

The group announced Tuesday that Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, which owns the tracks, has said it will contribute $2 million to the effort, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported (https://goo.gl/8NDFrH ).

In addition, Amtrak has pledged $4 million and the Kansas Department of Transportation has committed $3 million.

The Southwest Chief travels between Chicago and Los Angeles, but part of the current route is in jeopardy because of questions about maintenance and upgrades of track

Amtrak’s operating agreement with BNSF expires in 2016. An Amtrak official told New Mexico lawmakers earlier this year that BNSF doesn’t want to improve some track used by its slower-moving freight trains to meet higher speed requirements needed for Amtrak’s passenger trains.

The money from the coalition would be provided to match possible federal Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery grants.

Kansas previously applied unsuccessfully for one of the grants to help fund its costs for keeping the Southwest Chief on its current route.

No such steps have been taken in New Mexico, where a state study is underway to determine the economic benefits, infrastructure needs and costs involved with the route and possible constitutional constraints. Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration is hopeful for federal intervention.

U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both New Mexico Democrats, have urged a Senate committee to set aside funds for capital improvements for long-distance rail operations throughout the country, including the Southwest Chief passenger line.

“That’s the most logical,” said Tom Church, Martinez’s Cabinet secretary for transportation. “That’s the way it’s always been funded.”

A commitment of $4 million a year for a decade from each of the two railroads and the three states involved would be necessary to keep Amtrak running the Southwest Chief through the areas, including the northern New Mexico communities of Raton, Las Vegas and Lamy, the closest Amtrak station to Santa Fe.

Attempts by the New Mexico Legislature failed earlier this year to secure funding for the state’s estimated $40 million share to keep the line operating. In Colorado, legislation that would help identify a funding stream for that state’s share is pending.

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