The evocative whistles of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief through New Mexico are no longer in danger after a threat of rerouting the train was shelved, and aging tracks in the northeastern part of the state will be replaced, as will tracks in neighboring states.
The federal Department of Transportation approved a grant request from Colfax County under the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program, better known as TIGER. The $16 million award, combined with millions of dollars in state and corporate investments, will “fund critical repair work in New Mexico, Kansas, and Colorado,” said a news release issued Wednesday from New Mexico’s congressional delegation.
The Southwest Chief runs daily from Chicago to Los Angeles, with stops in Gallup, Albuquerque, Lamy, Las Vegas, N.M., and Raton. Segments of the line on a 200-mile stretch from Lamy to Trinidad, Colo., will be included in the upgrades covered by the department’s $16 million grant, according to the release.
The grant initially called for a match of $9.3 million from Amtrak, BNSF Railway and transportation departments in the three states. Because the $16 million awarded is lower than the $18.3 million originally requested, however, the match could be less.
“I don’t know if the match will be as high,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said Wednesday in a telephone interview. BNSF Railway owns the tracks north of Lamy and will be completing the repair work.
The New Mexico delegation and lawmakers from Colorado and Kansas supported the grant in letters to the U.S. Transportation Department.
“The Southwest Chief is an engine of economic growth in New Mexico that connects rural communities from Raton to Gallup,” U.S. Sen. Tom Udall said in the release. U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and U.S. Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham also praised the grant.
“The Southwest Chief isn’t just a railroad route in New Mexico, it connects communities like Gallup and Las Vegas to the rest of the nation and boosts the local economy,” Heinrich said. “Every summer, the Southwest Chief transports thousands of Boy Scouts from across the country to Philmont Scout Ranch near Cimarron, generating economic activity for businesses in these rural areas along the way.”
Every summer, more than 22,000 Scouts and others arrive at Philmont — and 20 percent of them travel on the Southwest Chief, according to a fact sheet. Those traveling to the ranch make up half the boardings and exits at the Amtrak station in Raton.
Total Amtrak boardings and exits in the state for fiscal year 2017 were 124,253, with 15,122 logged in Raton, 10,768 in Lamy and 4,487 in Las Vegas.
Amtrak employs 51 New Mexico residents and paid them wages totaling almost $4.6 million in fiscal year 2017, the fact sheets states.
Magliari said the grant not only will enhance the economics of the region but also will ensure safety.
“It’s going to keep the tracks in condition where we can operate safely and maintain reasonable speeds,” he said.
Two Amtrak accidents so far this year, and others in recent years, have put train safety in the national spotlight.
Four years ago, Amtrak considered rerouting the Southwest Chief around parts of New Mexico. Kansas and Colorado stepped in and acquired two federal grants with matching funds, but New Mexico had been reluctant to invest its own funds and participate in the TIGER program.
Contact Andy Stiny at 505-986-3007 or email@example.com.