The Southwest Chief will maintain existing train service through Kansas — for now, at least.

Amtrak’s current passenger rail route had been in doubt due to consideration of providing bus rides as an alternative in places. Good news came in a recent commitment from Amtrak to maintain the existing train service through the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2019.

As part of its run between Los Angeles and Chicago, the Southwest Chief stops daily in Topeka, Newton, Hutchinson, Dodge City and Garden City. Amtrak had explored ending train service between Dodge City and Albuquerque, N.M., and substituting buses for train travel to communities in between. One stop that would be affected, Garden City, had nearly 7,000 Amtrak passengers in 2017.

Affordable transportation is vital to folks in rural locales in particular. Passengers in Kansas can take advantage of fares of less than $100, depending on the destination.

While using bus connections as an alternative wouldn’t eliminate the transportation option, it would be less desirable to travelers, and in turn hurt Amtrak financially — a lose-lose proposition.

So, it was encouraging to see U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran and U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts engage in an effort to help block the change for the Southwest Chief and its patrons in Kansas. A positive development came in U.S. Senate passage of a transportation appropriations bill with an amendment Moran and Roberts supported allocating $50 million for maintenance and safety improvements on the Southwest Chief line — a move intended to reverse the plan to put passengers on buses.

While Amtrak’s more recent pledge to maintain existing train service was welcome, Moran and U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, understandably expressed disappointment with Amtrak’s plan to renege on a $3 million contribution for track maintenance promised as part of a $16 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant to Colfax County, N.M.

Amtrak officials did promise to keep working with stakeholders in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico. Collaboration between local, state and federal officials has been instrumental in progress to date with TIGER grants that enabled track upgrades.

There’s still more work to do. Kansas needs its congressional contingent to stay on track with efforts to maintain passenger rail service important to many people in the Sunflower State.

 

GateHouse Kansas