Amtrak says it’ll match funds to keep Southwest Chief route

Published: February 28, 2019

Amtrak has informed federal, state and local officials along the route of the daily Chicago-to-Los Angeles Southwest Chief that it will provide matching funds to enable a federal grant to be awarded for safety and reliability upgrades in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico, the carrier said in a news release Feb. 27.

The funds available to upgrade the route came after Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed the FY2019 Appropriations Act, which included funding for Amtrak and intercity passenger rail, earlier in the month.

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 in preserving the daily route from Chicago to Los Angeles.

Amtrak and BNSF Railway began community discussions regarding 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.

As reported in prior articles published on the SMART Transportation Division website and in the SMART TD News, Amtrak has been considering “bus bridges” on portions of the route or the potential discontinuation of the route altogether.

“We’re glad it’s getting funds to go through Colorado,” said Colorado State Legislative Director Carl Smith. “We’re supportive of all measures to continuing the Chief’s service through our state.”

Amtrak said in the release that it will use the newly available federal capital funding to continue needed work on the next route segment in New Mexico.

The carrier said in its release it is working on a long-term financial plan with state and local partners to address the unique challenges of the Southwest Chief route, particularly where Amtrak is the only user of BNSF tracks in Colorado and New Mexico.