Track funding clouds Amtrak future

11/30/2013

TOPEKA (AP) — Amtrak officials say a rail line is in need of additional funding in order to keep passenger service moving through southwest Kansas at a profitable speed.

TOPEKA (AP) — Amtrak officials say a rail line is in need of additional funding in order to keep passenger service moving through southwest Kansas at a profitable speed.

But the Topeka Capital-Journal reported Friday that Amtrak needs to have the track maintained at a proper level so trains can move quickly and keep passenger service on time. Amtrak has approached Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico about funding the $100 million for repairs.

The track is owned by BNSF Railway and is used by Amtrak for about four passenger trains a day, including two runs by the Southwest Chief from Chicago to Los Angeles. BNSF is willing to maintain the tracks to allow freight trains to travel at 30 mph, but not the 79-mph that Amtrak wants to maintain for passenger trains.

BNSF spokesman Andy Williams said the company is willing to pay for maintenance but Amtrak will have to pay for the improvements needed to maintain higher speeds.

"BNSF will continue to fund maintenance of the track for the lower speed freight trains that use the route and will accommodate Amtrak service on the existing route at whatever speeds Amtrak is willing to support," he said.

Marc Magliari, spokesman for Amtrak's Midwest division, said lower speeds would mean more hours being added to the train schedule. If a decision on funding isn't determined by the end of 2014, Amtrak has said it will look at other routes.

One mentioned by Amtrak is to route the Southwest Chief south out of Newton and going south through Oklahoma and Texas before turning back west to Albuquerque, N.M.

Amtrak had about 50,000 people in Kansas use its rail service in the past year. Nationwide, about 31.6 million people rode the rails in fiscal year 2013 with ticket revenues of $2.1 billion. A recent poll conducted by a union that represents Amtrak workers suggested Kansas residents support passenger rail.

Magliari said Amtrak wasn't party to the poll but wasn't surprised with the results.

"Every national opinion poll has shown the American public wants this as an option and wants more of it," he said.

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