Southwest Chief rail bill passes first committee

Published: February 25, 2015

Amtrak LogoDENVER – A bipartisan bill designed to help grow economic opportunity and expand transportation options in southern Colorado cleared its first hurdle Feb. 24, passing the Senate Local Government Committee by a vote of 5-2. The bill, S.B. 15-176, would continue to provide needed transportation options so vital to southeastern Colorado in places like Lamar, La Junta, and Trinidad, but will also explore the economic benefits of adding a regular stop in Pueblo, Colo.

The bill has the support of the Transportation Division’s Colorado State Legislative Board, Legislative Director Carl Smith reports.

Smith said that SMART members will be at the state capitol March 2 to ask legislators to support the measure and other important labor legislation affecting working families in Colorado. He encourages all SMART members to participate. They will meet in the basement cafe of the capitol, located at 200 E. Colfax in Denver, at 9 a.m. Lunch will be provided by the state legislative board.

“The Southwest Chief is a lifeline for southern Colorado’s economy and I’m looking forward to possibilities of expanding service in the future,” said Sen. Leroy Garcia (D-Pueblo), co-prime sponsor of the bill. “I was pleased to see bipartisan support for this important rail line; it will be good for tourism and provide needed help to our rural economies in this region of Colorado.”

Sen. Garcia was a member of the House of Representatives from 2013 to 2014 and was the prime House sponsor of a bill – H.B. 14-1161 – establishing the Southwest Chief Rail Line Commission. The commission was tasked with ensuring rail line service would continue in Colorado.

The bill as written would appropriate $8.91 million in state General Fund money to the commission’s fund and modify some of the commission’s expenditure requirements from last year’s bill. Under this year’s bill, Amtrak would be required to explore the economic benefits of adding a stop in Pueblo to the services this vital line provides to Southeastern Colorado. Amtrak is already expected to explore the benefits of adding regular stops in Walsenburg.

Supporters of the bill include Pueblo County, ColoRail Association and Amtrak.

The bill will now move to the Senate Appropriations Committee for its next hearing.