Train push — Amtrak route change would be setback in southwest Kansas

2/25/2014

An important mode of transportation through southwest Kansas remains in jeopardy.

An important mode of transportation through southwest Kansas remains in jeopardy.

A cloud of uncertainty has hovered over Amtrak passenger rail service since news came of a funding issue surrounding needed track repairs in the Sunflower State.

Deteriorating track conditions in south-central and southwest Kansas now force Amtrak's Southwest Chief to slow down, leaving Amtrak to possibly re-route the daily passenger train south of Newton and on through Texas to New Mexico if funding sources for the costly track repairs aren't identified.

Officials from affected towns should know how passenger rail service makes their communities more appealing in helping a variety of travelers.

Low-income residents and college students are among those who depend on the affordable, convenient service. Anyone without a vehicle may not have the flexibility to go elsewhere to make a connection.

Amtrak also expands the possibilities for local travelers. Having direct train service to Kansas City, for example, fills a void considering airline service out of Garden City now flies exclusively to and from Dallas-Fort Worth.

It's no wonder train ridership remains strong. Amtrak reported more than 7,300 passengers at the Garden City station in fiscal year 2013.

To maintain the current route, Amtrak proposed that Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico share costs of the track maintenance and upgrades with Amtrak and Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which owns the track. The plan called for $4 million annually for a decade from each state.

It would be a significant, yet needed investment. But in New Mexico, the legislative session recently ended without any commitment to fund that state's share. While Colorado lawmakers had some encouraging talks, nothing has materialized in Kansas.

Knowing lawmakers may be reluctant to devote state funds to the venture, another idea would involve localized taxes in cities and communities that benefit from the service.

Policymakers along the route in question seem eager to work together in finding a solution. While each state capital should offer an assist, leaders in communities along the way also must keep looking in their own back yard for funding possibilities needed to keep passenger rail service on track.

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