Joe Boardman, Amtrak President and CEO, toured three states on the Southwest Chief route in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico to observe the progress of ongoing BNSF upgrade to the route. He thanked thanking local, state and federal leaders for their partnership with Amtrak and BNSF Railway.
Matt Rose, BNSF Railway Executive Chairman and Richard Carlson, Interim Kansas Transportation Secretary, were aboard for segments of the tour. They were joined by other state, local and federal officials.
The BNSF upgrade began in 2014 following a public conversation between Amtrak and BNSF relating to deteriorating rail conditions which would impact BNSF freight services and would mean that Amtrak would be forced to permanently detour or discontinue the Southwest Chief service. Since that conversation, successful grant applications pioneered by by Garden City, Kansas, and La Junta, Colorado, have garnered in $27.6 million in federal TIGER funding in the past two years.
Amtrak and BNSF matched state and community support and contributions by adding $8 million and $4 million respectively to the upgrade fund. A total of of $46.2 million will be put towards 127 miles of replacement of rails and ties between Hutchinson, Kansas, and Waldo, New Mexico.
BNSF has also pledged to maintain the track at a maximum speed of 79 mph for Amtrak trains and 60 mph for freight trains on replaced sections of track. The replacement track was manufactured from a facility in Pueblo, Colorado, and was installed by BNSF crews.
Over the next few years, further grants and investments will be required to continue the improvements to the Raton Pass on the route in New Mexico, which is the steepest and highest BNSF crossing in the Rocky Mountains. Further BNSF upgrade works will need to take place on the route to Lamy, near Santa Fe.
Joe Boardman, Amtrak President and CEO, said:
“Since my service has Amtrak CEO began in 2008, Amtrak and BNSF have worked together to match federal grants with investments from both of our railroads, states and towns. On the Amtrak Empire Builder route in North Dakota and here on the Amtrak Southwest Chief route in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico, we seen leadership that brings everyone to the table and finds solutions.
“Together, we have improved the railroad for Amtrak and BNSF customers, strengthening critical links across states and connecting communities with little or no other intercity public transportation options.”
The Amtrak Southwest Chief route runs daily between Chicago and Los Angeles, via Kansas City and Albuquerque. Amtrak has also carried out research for a state commission in Colorado which demonstrates the benefits of an Amtrak service to connect Pueblo with the Southwest Chief at La Junta, Colorado.
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