Santa Fe to Support Amtrak Southwest Chief in Legislature

Train route's Northern New Mexico leg is in jeopardy

The City of Santa Fe is seeking to convince state lawmakers to support Amtrak's Southwest Chief in the 60-day Legislative session that starts in January.

Amtrak asked Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico to invest $40 million in taxpayer money over a decade to support track upgrades along the historic train route that runs between Chicago and Los Angeles. In the alternative, railroad officials have said the train could be rerouted to avoid particularly troublesome track near Raton pass, an action that would mean trains bypass Northern New Mexico stops.  

City Council passed a resolution Wednesday approving its legislative agenda, which includes calling on lawmakers to support the Southwest Chief route. The  New Mexico Municipal League, which represents New Mexico municipalities, also endorses legislative support of the route.

BNSF Railway, the freight line that leases the tracks to Amtrak, didn't want to pay for upgrades that would allow the train to safely travel at top speeds up to 79 miles per hour. BNSF offered to re-route the Southwest Chief through Amarillo, Clovis and Belen, thus killing service to Raton, Las Vegas and Lamy.

SFR traveled from Albuquerque to Los Angeles on the route last May. Some passengers told us they'd support state taxpayer money for the upgrades to maintain service to those communities. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has balked at the idea that New Mexico taxpayers should finance Amtrak, which is already heavily subsidized by the federal government.

New Mexico Department of Transportation Secretary Tom Church told lawmakers he preferred New Mexico seek a federal grant, reports the Associated Press, "which occurred recently in Kansas."

The City of Santa Fe could take a financial hit in tourism revenue if service stops to nearby Lamy. A loss of passenger service along the current route would cost New Mexico about $3 million annually and 56 jobs, the AP reports, citing a state-commissioned study.

Note: Following an editing error, a previous version of this story incorrectly placed Raton in Kansas.

A previous version also misstated BNSF Railway's name.

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