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An Amtrak Train Runs Through Them

Efforts to ensure that Amtrak's Southwest Chief continues its current route through three states has united more than 20 small communities in New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas.
October 26, 2017, 11am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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The Southwest Chief makes its stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
=Michael Rosebrock

Key to the efforts to retain the Southwest Chief route is the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, an Obama-era transportation funding program that has funded $5 billion worth of road, rail, port and bicycle projects. Like so many beneficial programs established by his predecessor, it was targeted by President Trump for elimination in his 2018 budget, but the U.S. Senate retrained its funding.

The most recent community to join the effort is Pueblo County, Colorado, population 159,000 located in the Front Range, by pledging $12,500 toward the TIGER grant application for train track repairs, reports Jesse Paul for The Denver Post on Oct. 23.

To date, Pueblo County says, the communities have banded together to pledge matching funds totaling nearly $9.2 million, with Colfax County, N.M., leading the $25 million grant application.

While the Chicago-to-Los Angeles Southwest Chief doesn't stop in Pueblo, pop.106,595 in 2010 census, Paul reported in July 2016 that adding a stop there "could draw as many as 14,000 new riders and about $1.45 million in ticket revenue" according to a new Amtrak study.

The findings are good news for Pueblo’s community leaders who have been pushing hard for a link to the historic line. The southern Colorado city has dreams of train travel bringing a renaissance to its rail hub, similar to the rejuvenation at Denver’s Union Station, and a potential economic impact in the millions.

These current efforts by rural towns in the three states to apply for the TIGER grant come is not the first time the train has brought them together. A November 2015 post of a Paul article indicates that the towns acted jointly to successfully press their state governments to apply for grants to retain the routing.

Deadline approaches for Front Range rail service

Paul reported last May on the newly formed Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission after Gov. John Hickenlooper [D-Colo.] "signed into law a bill to explore building passenger rail service along the Front Range and the expansion of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief route through the state’s southeastern corner."

Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace, who helped lead the push for the new commission and has been a vocal advocate for passenger rail in Colorado...said the commission has a deadline of Dec. 1, 2017, to present draft legislation to lawmakers.

In other Colorado rail news, Ana Lewett of the Boulder Daily Camera reports on Sept. 26 on the efforts of the Colorado Rail Passenger Association, the group that helped save Denver's Union Station, to explore "[w]hy there is there still no passenger train connecting Longmont, Boulder and Denver, more than a decade after it was voted upon?"

Hat tip to Annie Dawid.

Full Story:
Published on Monday, October 23, 2017 in The Denver Post
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