Gov. Susana Martinez is not enthusiastic about a plan that would require the state of New Mexico to pay $4 million a year for 10 years to help fund upgrades and maintenance of railroad tracks used by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.

Amtrak officials have said that three states along the historic passenger route between Chicago and Los Angeles would have to chip in for these expenses or the Southwest Chief will have to be re-routed. The other states are Colorado and Kansas.

“We’re happy to discuss various proposals around this important issue,” Martinez said in a statement to The New Mexican on Wednesday, “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. According to the New Mexico [Department of Transportation], the state has never provided state funds for Amtrak service. We’re willing to work together on this issue, but any agreement needs to take that reality into account.”

The possibility that the Southwest Chief might no longer run through Lamy was discussed Tuesday by a legislative committee. Amtrak officials have said that without a deal on track improvements the passenger route might be rerouted through Wichita, Kan., and Amarillo, Texas. That potential change would come if it can’t reach a new agreement by 2016 regarding track conditions, Amtrak has said.

Among the historic passenger train stations that might be left obsolete is the one in Lamy, southeast of Santa Fe, which has been the stop for train passengers heading in and out of Santa Fe since 1879.

Communities in northeastern New Mexico as well as Colorado and Kansas have been pressing for a cost-sharing agreement among the three states along with Amtrak and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, which owns most of the tracks. A spokesman for the railroad told lawmakers Tuesday that BNSF has not made a decision on whether such an arrangement is feasible.

The proposed new route for the passenger train would cut out western Kansas, Colorado and northeastern New Mexico and instead cross into Oklahoma and Texas. From Amarillo, the route would follow an existing track west into Albuquerque. But that would mean sharing the tracks with more than 100 freight trains a day.

In an agreement made during the administration of former Gov. Bill Richardson, the state had planned to buy the 182 miles of the track the Southwest Chief uses between the Colorado border and Lamy. But earlier this year. BNSF and the Martinez administration agreed to cancel the sale.

The state Department of Transportation is seeking public comment on its five-year rail plan which, according to a news release last week, “identifies current and future passenger and freight rail facilities, services, needs, issues and opportunities.”

Two meetings to discuss that plan in Santa Fe are scheduled for next week, one at 1:30 p.m. Monday, the other at 5 p.m. Tuesday. Both are scheduled to take place at city offices at 500 Market St. Suite 200 in the Santa Fe Railyard.

Contact Steve Terrell at sterrell@sfnewmexican.com. Read his political blog at roundhouseroundup.com.

(11) comments

henry Griswold

the money the state saves in not buying the track from lamy to colorado would easily pay for the upgrade tracks.

Pierce Knolls

The money Amtrak saved in ending their practice of giving away free drinks would easily pay for the track upgrade.

Pierce Knolls

Amtrak loses $72 million a year in food services costs. They give away free wine, champagne, and cheese to long-distance passengers. They also give away free meals for employees. If they just managed food service a little better they could easily cover the costs of the necessary track maintenance.

Why should Amtrak be able to give away free booze and still stick the states with the cost of track maintenance?

James Fitzgerald

It is perfectly obvious we can no longer depend on the federal government. This is an important issue especially to the folks on the east side of New Mexico. The Gov. may not like it but she need to see to it we don't loose this important service. I don't think New Mexico tax payers are being stuck with anything. We now need to be looking after ourselves. After some of the things the State blows tax payer money on, with little benefit, this would be a worthwhile investment that would benefit many. It needs to be done.

Pam Walker

We can fund spaceports, trains to Alb, movie venues but we can't fund affordable travel across the state. I absolutely hate paying New Mexico taxes because nothing I ever care about is considered worthy of the states attention.

Glenn Laubaugh

Amtrak operates over freight railroads, and provides funding to freight railroads for maintenance of the lines they operate over at an incremental level above that required for freight service only. So, if the freight service goes away then either Amtrak must move or they must have enough funding to maintain a line to passenger service standards only. In all other states, Amtrak has either had to move as lines were abandoned, or the local community that wanted to retain Amtrak services had to increase its funding to get the service they wanted. It seems only fair that New Mexico should either put up or shut up, as everywhere else has had to do.

(Sure, in the Northeast Amtrak doesn't demand the states pay to compensate for freight trains that don't operate on the main line, but instead those lines are crowded with state subsidized commuter trains that accomplish the same background supporting traffic that freight does everywhere else.)

Though, if New Mexico had any sense, it would join with Colorado's efforts at improving passenger train services and turn the Albuquerque - Santa Fe - Raton - Pueblo - Denver route into a regional corridor service. Put the operation of it out to public bid, so that Amtrak would have to compete against Talgo, Veolia, Herzog, Bombardier, and other companies that operate regional passenger rail services for various other states. Get someone like Gateway Rail Services in St. Louis or Delaware Car to rebuild some cars to Amtrak standards like they have for others.

Mike Plantz

I remember reading that everyone might abandon the line. Salvage operations would harvest, and recycle, the rails and ties. I hope this does not happen! However, should that happen, I think the State should purchase the line, again, and turn it into a bicycle, hiking trail! This line runs through some of the most beautiful country in America. People would come from all over the Word to ride and hike this trail. This would be an economic boom for NM for generations to come! Still, I think it would be a shame to abandon it as a rail line. But, if we are going to be stupid, let us try to be smart about it.

Thomas Carlson

I'd be curious to know who owns Santa Fe Municipal Airport. I'm guessing that it is the city. It's probably the same for Albuquerque International. Municipalities and the state spend your tax dollars to build and maintain these facilities. Would it be so outlandish to think that the rail right-of-ways could be publicly owned and passenger and freight lines would pay to utilize them just like the airlines do at the airports?

Scotty Macunga

I stand with Gov. Martinez. The Eastern states from Boston to Washington have all their train service funded by the national Amtrak appropriation. If New Mexico were to be forced to pay for its own Amtrak service, that would put our state in a disadvantaged position. In essence, the way Amtrak wants things, the East Coast would be favored. Why should this so-called company spending EVERYBODY'S Federal tax dollars be allowed to favor certain states, and only one region of the company? It is time that the leaders of Amtrak realize that they are a NATIONAL train company, not just a Northeastern one. If they can't do that, perhaps they should lose all their Federal funding and try to make it on their own as a Northeastern company with Northeastern tax dollars.

Mike Plantz

The rail line should be given to Indian tribes and they could put casino cars on the trains. The revenues should pay for the line maintenance.

Willie Green

In all other modes of transportation (roadways, highways, airways, waterways), government and/or government agencies own/maintain/control the transportation infrastructure upon which we operate our vehicles. (cars, trucks, buses, planes, boats, barges)
Ideally, the railways would be paterned after this same model, with government providing the tracks & stations, and the private sector providing the rolling stock that operates on the right-of-way.

Private ownership of the right-of-way is a local monopoly that serves as a barrier to market competition. New Mexico should acquire this section of track, and provide access to it to whomever wishes to operate trains on it regardless whether it's Amtrak, local commuter trains or private tourist/dining trains.

Open the rails to REAL competition.

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