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Amtrak Southwest Chief Service Rests with N.M. Governor

Continued service to many cities in New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas may rest with N.M. Gov. Susana Martinez who has indicated she is unwilling to share in the maintenance costs required by the federal government for a stretch of rail owned by BNSF.
February 4, 2014, 9am PST | Irvin Dawid
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What is it with Republican governors and rail transit? We've written how N.J. Gov. Chris Christie killed the replacement rail tunnels under the Hudson River, and incoming Republican governors in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida rejected federal high speed rail stimulus funds.

Sadly, New Mexico may be added to the list, but unlike the aforementioned rail projects, Gov. Susana Martinez' decision would also affect current service in other states serviced by the storied, long-distance Amtrak train, the Southwest Chief that runs from Los Angeles to Chicago. See Amtrak's extensive state-by-state route guide [PDF].

"A proposed partnership to bring Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico together with Amtrak and track owner Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway to keep the train route active beyond 2015 could hinge on New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez’s support," writes Patrick Malone.

So far, Martinez has not been keen on the idea. She has persistently said the necessary track repairs are the responsibility of the federal government, not the taxpayers of New Mexico.

The irony is not lost on Amtrak advocates. Martinez' Republican colleagues in Congress demand that Amtrak recoup more of its costs and rely less on federal subsidies.

In a hotline report, the National Association of Rail Passengers explains the reason for the cost-sharing.

The segment of the route in question is owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and sees little to no freight traffic. As a result, Amtrak and the affected states are expected to pay most of the cost of maintaining the segment to permit safe operation of passenger trains at marketable speeds.  

As for the other two states, Colo. Gov. John Hickenlooper supports the cost-sharing and even wants expansion. Need I mention that he's a Democrat? As for Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican and "a staunch critic of Amtrak when he served in the U.S. Senate, his stance on the Southwest Chief has been ambiguous. But he made it clear that without funding from the other states and entities involved in the discussion, Kansas could not make it work," writes Malone.

New Mexico Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, D-Santa Fe. offered one reason for Martinez to join Hickenlooper in supporting cost-sharing for the train. “It means economic development for rural areas of the state and supports tourism," he said.

Adding to the urgency of the decision, track-owner BNSF "announced it won't maintain its tracks to endure high speeds of passenger trains," according to The Denver Post.

Full Story:
Published on Saturday, February 1, 2014 in The New Mexican
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