Moran talks transportation during GC stop

Meghan Flynn
Garden City Telegram
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) made a stop in Garden City on Wednesday to talk with local officials. Moran made stops at the Garden City Train Depot and Garden City Regional Airport.

Transportation was the theme of U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran's visit to Garden City Wednesday.

The Kansas senator made stops at the Garden City Train Depot and Garden City Regional Airport.

Moran said his visit coincided with the senate's Easter recess and prior to Garden City, he stopped by Salina, Great Bend and Hays on Tuesday. 

"I wanted to check in because of developments in regard to Amtrak is one of them, but also the opportunity for improvements at the airport," he said. "I serve on committees that deal with both of those things and I just wanted Garden City's input on what's going on and to get an understanding if things are moving in the right direction and if there were problems, what are those problems and how can I help."

Matt Allen, Garden City City Manager, said Moran has been a champion for transportation in rural areas.

"He understands that both from a passenger rail perspective and from an airline passenger perspective that connectivity to the rest of the national grid is critically important to our economy and critically important to the town continuing to grow and be successful," he said.

Moran said he advocates for Amtrak because it's important the people in the area, and many use it for reasons which include economic circumstances, love of traveling and visiting family.

"We have a national system of passenger rail service that I don't want Amtrak to forget," he said. "It's not just about providing passenger service to where a lot of people live along the northeast coast, it's also taking care of the middle of the country with a line like the Southwest Chief."

His advocacy for Amtrak really started after people and communities along the Southwest Chief rail line lobbied for him to support it after Amtrak, at the corporate level, suggested that long-distance passenger rail might be in jeopardy and were not fulfilling their grant promises.

In a meeting with a former Amtrak CEO, senators from New Mexico, Colorado and another from Kansas, Amtrak mentioned a plan they were contemplating for bus service and basically eliminating the Southwest Chief rail line, Moran said.

"That started us to go through a long process of getting funding and forcing Amtrak to invest and keep Southwest Chief," he said.

Allen said a coalition of local governments and state governments impacted by the portion of the route rallied along with BNSF Railway and Amtrak partners, grant applications and two infrastructure programs to improve rail service to a standard where it could continue to carry passenger rail service at the speeds necessary to make the time turnaround between Chicago and Los Angeles.

"If they could no longer make that turnaround then a 48 hour, 24 hour, maybe 24 hour in one direction, 48 hour the other direction, if they couldn't make that turnaround time then the route was no longer viable," he said.

Reducing services is not a solution to a business' financial condition, Moran said.

"People will find alternative to using your business, using Amtrak, using the Southwest Chief, using the United States Postal Service," he said. "Improve your service, improve the quality and bring in customers and therefore revenue that way."

Moran said one way they made sure Amtrak would keep the rail line was to hold off on the confirmation of Amtrak board members until it committed, in writing, to be supportive of long-distance passenger rail, in particular the Southwest Chief, Moran said.

Moran said he was concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic would give Amtrak an excuse to eliminate service, however that hasn't happened.

$1.7 billion of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package has been given to Amtrak, Moran reported, and has caused Amtrak leadership to announce the return of daily service.

"We believe that day in Kansas is May 31, in time for summer travelers perhaps," he said.

Allen said transportation of any kind is important to rural areas and it's good to have support from law makers that understand the necessity of multiple modes of transportation.

"When you're 200 miles plus to any medium size city, let alone a metropolitan area, you've got to have all those tools, and we do and we're grateful for them and we're grateful to have a senator and really an entire congressional delegation that stands behind that," he said.

In other business, Moran said his visit to southwest Kansas was to promote people getting vaccinated and to find out if there are any communities where the vaccine is in short supply and if it is to try and help get more vaccines out to the people.

"Just broadly, we're paying attention to getting us out of the problems associated with COVID by encouraging vaccination," he said. "I see my role there is to do everything I can to get the most number of vaccines to Kansas."