Session ends with no solution to save Southwest Chief route

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Posted: Thursday, February 20, 2014 10:30 pm | Updated: 4:57 pm, Fri Feb 21, 2014.

New Mexico’s legislative session concluded Thursday without a commitment to fund the state’s share of a proposed partnership to keep Amtrak’s Southwest Chief running through the northern portion of the state beyond 2015.

Five bills that sought solutions for keeping the passenger line on its historic route failed to pass. However, in the state budget, the New Mexico Legislature authorized a study and collaboration between the state’s Transportation Department and its counterparts in Kansas and Colorado, which also stand to lose stops on the Southwest Chief line if it is rerouted.

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Welcome to the discussion.


  • scott smart posted at 2:53 pm on Fri, Feb 21, 2014.

    scott Posts: 9

    I think the railrunner has disproved your statement about trains being economical...

  • scott smart posted at 2:51 pm on Fri, Feb 21, 2014.

    scott Posts: 9

    I hope that the economic impact study is not done by the same outfit that earlier studied the rail runner and spaceport....

  • Ernie Barney posted at 10:43 am on Fri, Feb 21, 2014.

    EB Posts: 5

    I have to shake my head at the Gov's "Congress funds Amtrak" position. Congress does NOT provide enough funding to keep trains running. Amtrak and several states have worked to increase funding levels to keep trains not only running but expanding service in their corridors. And forget about federal funding to enable Amtrak to invest for real growth (new equipment, routes, etc.) Doesn't happen. Many states have stepped forward because they recognize rail's importance. Mr. Ribe's post is dead on. The GOP, back to the Nixon admin just after Amtrak was formed, has tried to kill Amtrak. Obama talked a good game on "high speed" rail for America but only threw a few peanuts at it. Amtrak's ridership, on the whole, continues to grow. A recent post here compared trains to stagecoaches and that they should just go away. The poster also commented about how many people take the train to Dallas from Santa Fe. My answer is "none". There used to be but there is no train service today. You are forced to fly or drive. Or how about linking with Denver and other Front Range communities with a rail corridor? How many folks would use such a service? Based on what other states and countries have done my guess would be quite a few. Let's be honest, there are NO passenger trains in the world that are "for profit:enterprises". All receive government subsidies as a public service and rail ridership has grown around the world.

  • Tom Ribe posted at 9:38 am on Fri, Feb 21, 2014.

    Tribe66 Posts: 29

    Governor Martinez' response to this crisis is very revealing. To "study" whether Amtrak benefits New Mexico is selfish and dishonest. She knows it benefits the state, just not the sectors she cares about. Of course having transportation alternatives for rural New Mexicans and for the millions of people passing through New Mexico on Amtrak benefits us! Many people won't ride airplanes and trains are by far the most energy efficient form of transport available. If Martinez was up to date and thinking about the future rather than just oil and cattle, she would see the great benefit of investing more in trains, putting in fast commuter rail to join with Colorado so we could have an economic zone extending to Denver. But the GOP won't invest in infrastructure or mass transit. It will be good to have a new governor soon.


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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