U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran has been determined to keep passenger rail service on its current path in Kansas.
Ongoing pressure to divert Amtrak’s Southwest Chief route away from existing stops in the state led Moran and other policymakers to work on ways to fix parts of the train track in question, where deteriorating rail conditions were an issue.
Kansas’ junior senator recently added another strategy by delaying the confirmation of three nominees to Amtrak’s board of directors — leverage intended to compel Amtrak to offer assurances that the Southwest Chief would operate for at least another year through the Sunflower State.
The Southwest Chief runs daily between Chicago and Los Angeles with stops in Lawrence, Topeka, Newton, Hutchinson, Dodge City and Garden City.
In part due to track issues, Amtrak had explored ending train service between Dodge City and Albuquerque, N.M., and incorporating bus rides for Garden City and other communities in between.
Communities that covet the affordable transportation option — especially in rural western Kansas, where it’s vital — have worked together to keep the route in place.
In recent years, the collaborative effort of local, state and federal officials led to Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants that enabled track upgrades designed to keep the Southwest Chief on its current route.
Moran supported allocating $50 million for maintenance and safety improvements on the Southwest Chief line — federal-budget funding intended to reverse the plan to eliminate part of the train service. But it’s not a permanent fix, so Moran is willing to step up pressure to secure a commitment to maintain the service.
Much focus has been placed on strategies to preserve rural communities in Kansas, to include a new Office of Rural Prosperity directed by Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers. As the initiative unfolds, those involved will need to consider ways to reverse population declines in rural communities.
To that end, saving affordable transportation options is paramount. Amtrak provides a vital link for rural communities in Kansas and nationwide.
The biggest charge to preserve passenger rail connections in Kansas has to come at the federal level, of course.
To get rural Kansas moving again — and prevent another hurdle to progress — Amtrak must keep running through the state. Give Moran credit for his push to maintain the rail service.