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.