Martinez could derail tri-state plan to save Southwest Chief

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Posted: Saturday, February 1, 2014 7:00 pm | Updated: 7:50 pm, Sat Feb 1, 2014.

The greatest threat to derail Amtrak’s Southwest Chief from running through Northern New Mexico isn’t at ground level on its aging tracks, but perched four stories high in the New Mexico state Capitol.

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. The partnership calls for each to shoulder a share of the track maintenance costs, and proponents of the plan in all three states view Martinez as its foremost obstacle.

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  • Fred Stokes posted at 2:49 pm on Wed, Feb 5, 2014.

    fredstokes Posts: 93

    It would be great to have a real newspaper with some professional journalists. Then we might get some useful data with this article -- e.g., the number of people who get on or off at Lamy in a year; an estimate of the impact on the economy; andor the trends in usage.

  • Jim Loomis posted at 6:43 pm on Tue, Feb 4, 2014.

    JimLoomis Posts: 1

    It troubles me that so many comments focus on the subsidy Amtrak receives. In their regrettable ignorance, they don't understand that ALL public transportation is subsidized. The federal government has the EAS (Essential Air Service) program that makes direct payments to the airlines for every passenger on every flight into rural airports all over the west and Mid-west. The gasoline tax only covers about half the money the feds spend on building and maintaining highways; the other half is pure subsidy. City bike paths and even sidewalks are subsidized with tax dollars. Here's a fact: for literally millions of Americans, Amtrak is the only public transportation available to them. Yes, Amtrak gets a pitifully small subsidy. And for all those tax-paying Americans who depend on those trains, including the historic Southwest Chief, it's money very well spent.

  • Dale Harwood posted at 6:58 pm on Mon, Feb 3, 2014.

    DaleH Posts: 4

    Yet Amtrak covers 88% of it's costs and Railrunner less than 25% of its costs. Those dining, lounge, baggage, and sleeping cars allow Amtrak to charge higher fares. You need to look at both sides of the equation.

  • Dale Harwood posted at 6:53 pm on Mon, Feb 3, 2014.

    DaleH Posts: 4

    We aren't against all forms of public transportation. I think I can speak for a growing number of us understand that in many cases, rail is a better investment as is the case here. I do however, agree with Martinez in that it should be the federal government paying for this. It's an INTERSTATE train and should be funded by an 80-20 formula - just like Interstate highways.

  • Dale Harwood posted at 6:48 pm on Mon, Feb 3, 2014.

    DaleH Posts: 4

    Andrew, But it's not a black hole. For the cost of resurfacing less than 9 miles of a typical 4-lane road every year, you get daily train service east and west that provides more return per taxpayer dollar than cars and roads. From an economic standpoint, passenger trains are a better investment of taxpayer dollars. We should be expanding long-distance train service, not cutting it back.

  • Dale Harwood posted at 6:44 pm on Mon, Feb 3, 2014.

    DaleH Posts: 4

    Henry, what the "Public Purpose" won't tell you is that Amtrak covers 88% of its costs, while highways cover only 51% of their costs. The $4 million dollars per year for the state's Amtrak service would barely cover the cost of resurfacing .less than 9 miles of roadway on a typical 4-lane highway.
    One last thing: The "Public Purpose" is a funded by oil, highway, and auto lobbyists. They'll never admit - under any circumstances- that rail is by far a better investment.
    Let's not be fooled folks. Highways are massive money-losers. Always have - always will.

  • henry griswold posted at 6:16 pm on Mon, Feb 3, 2014.

    henry griswold Posts: 218

    doesn't amtrak pay bnsf for use of the track, which they should then maintain.........

  • Garl Latham posted at 11:04 am on Mon, Feb 3, 2014.

    gblatham Posts: 1


    The U.S. railroad industry once operated its own passenger services, for profit, while paying taxes and dividends.

    It was our government's insistence upon using tax money to create an all-weather, high speed roadway network which almost destroyed our privately operated railway system! After all, who can effectively compete against the folks that print the money?

    It's interesting that every penny spent on Amtrak since its birth doesn't even equal the taxpayer's current (estimated) share of the so-called NextGen Air Traffic Control system. Shoot, we spend more money on highways ANNUALLY than we've EVER invested in intercity passenger train service initiatives!

    Get Washington (and New Mexico) out of the transportation business entirely and you'll never have to worry about those bad ol' trains taking money out of your wallet again!

    In fact, I'd wager that, given economic realities, passenger trains would end up being the last man standing!

    Garl B. Latham

  • christopher quintana posted at 5:04 pm on Sun, Feb 2, 2014.

    christopher quintana Posts: 32

    Why are Republicans against all public transportation? I take this train about 4 times a year and many passengers board points between Gallup and Flagstaff, headed to LA

  • Drake Swenson posted at 3:43 pm on Sun, Feb 2, 2014.

    Drake Swenson Posts: 2

    I open my wallet each time I support the train...when I buy a ticket. Given the choice, I'd rather see 4 million spent on the train than the spaceport, it doesn't change my taxes.

  • Steve Salazar posted at 3:00 pm on Sun, Feb 2, 2014.

    Steve Salazar Posts: 871

    Why don't the people who want the train open THEIR wallets and pay for this, why depend on government?

  • Steve Salazar posted at 2:59 pm on Sun, Feb 2, 2014.

    Steve Salazar Posts: 871

    You believe a liberal rag with a liberal agenda, I feel for you.

  • Henry Bowman posted at 1:06 pm on Sun, Feb 2, 2014.

    Henry Bowman Posts: 17

    Amtrak loses $186 per thousand passenger miles (2004 figures). According publicpurpose.com, the Southwest Chief lost $154 per thousand passenger miles in 1997. Seems to me that, with the exception of high population areas such as the East coast, intercity rail is simply a 19th century technology that a relatively small number of train aficionados like to use. I don't see a good reason to subsidize such obsolete transportation modes.

  • Gregory Strick posted at 12:38 pm on Sun, Feb 2, 2014.

    GregS Posts: 1

    Not only does the state depend on this train, and specifically this route, the tourist market in Santa Fe depends on it. I have travelled the train a number of times and visit with those coming in to Lamy to visit Santa Fe. They are an important source of revenue for the city and state, and an important source of good will when they go back to their home states. Gov. (leader????) Martinez needs to get on the train and talk to people who use it, and visit the businesses in the cities where it stops and talk to people who meet those who use it. Would she do anything if all of a sudden the Federal government stopped funding I-25 or I-40, of course she would. Well, this is no different.

  • Drake Swenson posted at 11:57 am on Sun, Feb 2, 2014.

    Drake Swenson Posts: 2

    This state depends on the train! I use it and want to keep riding the Southwest Chief. Its hours to a big airport for me and frankly, flying is too much of a hassle. I can't imagine that I'll ever use the spaceport and we have thrown a lot of money at that...can't we keep our train, a reliable source of transportation for me out of the state and family and friends coming into the state, versus allowing one person to stop a tradition AND a necessity for New Mexico residents! I suggest that if Martinez or other legislatures have not ridden the train, especially business class, that they do so BEFORE voting against the funding.

  • Harvey Morgan II posted at 11:45 am on Sun, Feb 2, 2014.

    Harveytime Posts: 10

    So has Gov. Martinez stated she would lobby Congress to put the funding in place? Or is she just hoping the Southwest Chief drowns in the bathtub?

  • vincent saiz posted at 11:25 am on Sun, Feb 2, 2014.

    vin e Posts: 17

    Tejana is BAD FOR NEW MEXICO and its STUDENTS

  • vincent saiz posted at 11:24 am on Sun, Feb 2, 2014.

    vin e Posts: 17

    Tejana needs to go back to Texas already and she needs to remember to take the dummy from Florida with her

  • Stan Bies posted at 11:02 am on Sun, Feb 2, 2014.

    Patron Posts: 37

    Let us quit hearing about how things were done "since inception" and just work on what makes sense. Also constantly saying what cannot be done is not leadership. Good thing this generation is not the one being asked to actually accomplish things for the State or the Country.

  • Jeff Carr posted at 10:51 am on Sun, Feb 2, 2014.

    CitizenKane Posts: 27

    Northern New Mexico needs this. This issue is important and should not be decided on being ideologically consistent.

  • Cathy McManus posted at 10:39 am on Sun, Feb 2, 2014.

    CMcManus Posts: 40

    Edward, Gov. Martinez can veto any legislation therefore she would be the problem.

  • Cathy McManus posted at 10:37 am on Sun, Feb 2, 2014.

    CMcManus Posts: 40

    This statement bothers me: “We’re happy to discuss various proposals around this important issue, but Amtrak was created and funded by Congress since its inception, and thus, any agreement should not stick the taxpayers of New Mexico with a large tab,” Martinez’s spokesman, Enrique Knell. If Gov. Martinez and and her staff are true Republican conservatives/Tea Party Conservatives then taking control of Amtrak would be a way to make govt. smaller and back in control of the states. They should be elated and support this issue.

  • Pam Walker posted at 10:37 am on Sun, Feb 2, 2014.

    lilbit Posts: 68

    But of course we can fund a Spaceport that the average New Mexican could never even think about riding.

  • Pam Walker posted at 10:34 am on Sun, Feb 2, 2014.

    lilbit Posts: 68

    Read the article. It specifically states that SHE is the problem.

  • Pam Walker posted at 8:56 am on Sun, Feb 2, 2014.

    lilbit Posts: 68

    Our Gov could not care less whether there is a cheaper way of travel because she can hop on a plane any time she wants and does. There are a lot of folks that cannot afford to fly, have trouble navigating the airports and in general just love the train. I travel twice a year on the train and in former years even went a lot more. It is almost always fairly full. I have been coast to coast and enjoy it even more now that I am getting older. So sad to even think about it going away.

  • Edward Brown posted at 8:49 am on Sun, Feb 2, 2014.

    ERB Posts: 14

    Since the NM Legislature controls the purse strings and it is controlled by the democrats, it is they who are responsible for not funding the Southwest Chief - not the Governor. Put the blame where it belongs.

  • Wehican Upp posted at 8:25 am on Sun, Feb 2, 2014.

    Dave Nelson Posts: 2

    The SW Chief, because it is transcontinental, has to have a dorm car for crew, a dining car, a lounge car, a baggage car, and enough cars to carry people from Chicago to LA, usually three to five. When Amtrak was allowed to carry some freight that train was about 26 cars long. And at least two engines. That is all excess weight and expense to haul through the mountains. Mountains get in the way of efficiency and linking of communities. Plus crew changes along the way. On Amtrak the engineers and conductors are the only ones that get on and off for eight hour shifts. The rest run from Chicago to LA. La Junta, CO, is a crew change, I believe ABQ is the next.

    Railrunner would be a lot more efficient along those routes. An engine and passenger cars only. The state needs to extend it. In this case, ABQ to Santa Fe, then link to Raton. Fire up the old route up to the north from Santa Fe and extend to the four corners. Santa Fe becomes a hub serving the northern and northeastern part of the state. Just one train a day would be a good start. The transportation links will start future growth.

  • Wehican Upp posted at 7:42 am on Sun, Feb 2, 2014.

    Dave Nelson Posts: 2

    I am a big fan of the Southwest Chief, I have ridden it many times. The link under discussion is the only scenic part of it. I live in CO on that route and watch the train pass everyday.


    In NM it is also the slowest leg, and except for the annual Boy Scout gathering there really isn't that much ridership getting off and on from Lamy to Raton.

    Those millions of dollars to preserve that route just support a few jobs along that route, and add nothing to economic potential of the area.

    ABQ, the center of the state, is the gateway to NM. You get there, then you go someplace else in it. It is a simple geographic reality. Invest any rail money in branching out from ABQ and linking the state together. That is the way it has been and is. You build a network from that hub.

    Lamy to Raton is a nice excursion trip, not an economical transportation route.

    That existing rail link needs to be put to use as a right of way connecting NM and CO for a lighter weight rail link and energy transfer, such as electrical and gas lines. Extend the CO Front Range down into eastern New Mexico.

    Spend any money upgrading the network, not maintaining anachronistic routes.

  • Andrew Lucero posted at 1:39 am on Sun, Feb 2, 2014.

    Andrew Lucero Posts: 129

    I'm quite torn on this issue. I wish the article would have told us what the actual ridership is on the Southwest Chief, along with how many jobs it provides and how much it contributes to the state's economy.

    I fully realize that rail plays an integral part in both our local and nation' s transportation infrastructure...But I am not sure if spending millions of dollars annually just to maintain an antiquated rail system is the best use of state funds...It would be different if we were investing in the future of rail, which is high speed bullet trains like they have throughout Asia and Europe....

    This is an incomplete article. We need all the facts so that we can make an informed decision. And as much as I like trains and would hate to see the Southwest Chief go, I have to ask.... what is our return on the investment? Or is this going to be just another political black hole that we throw countless millions into for perpetuity?


Key issues facing lawmakers


Backdrop: New Mexico gained only 1,700 jobs during the past year ending in November. That's a growth rate of 0.2 percent and the lowest in the region. New Mexcio's unemployment rate was 6.4 percent in November compared with 6.7 percent a year earlier.

Proposals: Gov. Susana Martinez proposed expanding programs that can help bring nurses, dentists and other medical providers to rural areas. She also wants to provide $7.5 million for an endowment fund to attract top porfessors and researchers at colleges and universities. The governor recommends broadening tax incentivies to encourage startup companies as well as research and development. Democrats are pushing to increase the stat's minimum wage, which has been $7.50 an hour since 2009. Some lawmakers want automatic cost-of-living increases in the wage rate.


Backdrop: The current state budget is $5.9 billion, and revenues are expected to reach nearly $6.2 billion in the fiscal year starting in July. That provides about $239 million in "new money" for lawmakers and the governor for budget increases and to offset tax cuts. The state has cash reserves of more than $500 million, but that could shrink because of accounting discrepancies stretching back more than six years.

Proposals: Martinez has recommended a 3 percent budget increase compared with about 4 percent proposed by the Legislative Finance Committee. Martinez proposes targeted increases for hard-to-fill jobs such as state police. But the legislative panel advocates across-the-board raises for all state agency workers and educators, with higher amounts for those in certain jobs, including judges, state police and social workers.


Backdrop: About $600 million in bond financing is available for capital improvement projects. Some of that goes for specific purposes, including public schools and projects on tribal lands. However, much of the financing will be divvied up for new projects. 

Proposals: Martinez proposes earmarking about $112 million in bond proceeds for water projects across the state. The governor also recommends creatinga  new fund that can provide emergency assistance to communities with drinking water problems. The Legislative Finance Committee has recommended $10 million in bond financing for highway maintenance and $6 million for a road to the state's spaceport.


Backdrop: Public schools, colleges and universities get nearly $3 out of every $5 in the operating budget. The high school graduation rate was 70 percent in the last school year, and nearly half of graduates enrolling in state colleges in 2011 and 2012 required remedial courses.

Proposals: Martinez will renew a proposal to require schools to hold back third-graders who can't read proficiently. Some Democrats and a coalition of social advocacy groups want to earmark part of the yearly payout from a state permanent fund to provide more money for early-childhood education. Lawmakers also will consider ways to shore up a lottery-financed college scholarship program. Some proposals would change the program to make the aid need-based and provide a flat dollar amount for scholarships. 

The Associated Press

Session dates - 2014

• December 16, 2013 - January 17 Legislation may be prefiled

• January 21 Opening day (noon)

• February 5 Deadline for introduction

• February 20 Session ends (noon)

• March 12 Legislation not acted upon by governor is pocket vetoed

• May 21 Effective date of legislation not a general appropriation bill or a bill carrying an emergency clause or other specified date

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