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Bill to Save Southwest Chief

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Chas

Train Attendant
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Nov 1, 2009
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91
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Southern Colorado
A southern Colorado legislator has introduced a bill to help keep the Southwest Chief running through Colorado.

[Rep. Leroy] Garcia said his bill provides a way for local communities and private investors to collect funding that could help pay for the improvements.

Garcia said his bill also would create a commission of the various players to determine how to plan for the improvements.

The plan would include a stop in Pueblo, something that the chief currently does not do.

But Garcia said any plan to include Pueblo would not be at the expense of the other three Southern Colorado stops in Lamar, La Junta and Trinidad.

But Garcia said adding Pueblo to the line could help solve Amtrak’s lingering problem with low ridership through Southern Colorado.
I was unaware that there was a "problem with low ridership" here, considering how every time I use the La Junta station, the parking lot is more full.
 
G

guest

Guest
Pueblo??? How would they get there and back? That's quite a detour, which would add hours to the current schedule...
 

VentureForth

Conductor
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Jan 23, 2007
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Richmond Hill, GA
It's not difficult - depending on the conditions of the track. Instead of heading Southwest from La Junta to Trinidad, it would go West to Pueblo then South to Trinidad. It would add approximately an hour and 70 miles to the time table.

The real downside is that it would probably make the time in ABQ much shorter than the 30-45 minutes it enjoys now.
 
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XHRTSP

Lead Service Attendant
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Jan 7, 2014
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327
Or Colorado could just build their own commuter line from Denver down to Trinidad. Do it right and make it 110mph and I'm sure you could get some respectable ridership going.
 

gmushial

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How about using the extra money/funding to run a railcar/DMU from Pueblo to either Trinidad or La Junta to specifically meet the SWC? ... no extra time/miles to the SWC schedule, and the beginning of a hub/spoke system to feed the SWC (read: more net ridership for the SWC).
 

gmushial

OBS Chief
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Or Colorado could just build their own commuter line from Denver down to Trinidad. Do it right and make it 110mph and I'm sure you could get some respectable ridership going.
Use the I-25 ROW - wouldn't have to buy land, would be a protected area, ie, no trespassers etc. ... also might be disheartening enough to be driving I-25 and have the railcar zip by doing 40mph even faster (ie, to encourage drivers to abandon their cars).... one thing to have a RR out in the middle of nowhere where nobody see it, but to use the I-25 ROW: would self-advertise with every run. Also might be able to tie into the new airport so far from Denver proper.
 

jphjaxfl

Conductor
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Jacksonville, FL
Santa Fe ran a connecting train from Denver to Colorado springs, Pueblo and Lajunta until A Day. Track was fairly smooth. seems like Colorado could include that as part of the bill.
 

bgiaquin

Service Attendant
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Aug 5, 2013
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219
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Minnesota
Ehh, Here is the thing, even if Colorado does it's part to keep the Chief where it is, that may not convince Kansas and NM to do theirs, therefore the train would be forced to reroute to the transcon anyway. With Pueblo, well, that may be a good idea, but it may not be. It could be just a "try it out and see how it goes" sort of deal.
 
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Nathanael

Guest
Checking my handy railroad atlas, it would be pretty easy to detour the train via Pueblo. Slower, certainly.

The thing is, I don't think this is going to work. Amtrak has set a deadline of end-of-2014 for getting the existing route funded, or it will start planning to relocate it to the faster Amarillo route.

It's clearly not a priority in Colorado, but suppose this bill goes through.

There are some state legislators in New Mexico pushing for funding, but New Mexico can't get funding unless Martinez is replaced by a pro-train governor -- and the election is in November 2014, not giving much time to find funding before Amtrak's deadline. Even a new governor may not make it a priority, as the reroute still service Albuquerque and the existing route would cost a lot more money.

No state legislators in Kansas are pushing for funding. Nothing will happen in Kansas unless the governor AND the legislative majority are unseated -- and the election is in November. Even if Brownback is unseated and Davis gets a Democratic majority in the legislature, I'm pretty sure the Kansas government will have other priorities. Indeed, Wichita will probably be advocating *for* the reroute. And Garden City etc. don't have any money of their own to contribute -- Wichita might.

I just don't see the funding coming through in time to maintain the existing route. It needs a *lot* of money, and the money isn't going to come through unless all three states agree.

Frankly, the Amarillo route is better anyway, although an Albuquerque-Pueblo-Denver route would be quite worthwhile. (The sticking point there is apparently coal-train crowding on the "Joint Line" between Pueblo and Denver. A "coal bypass" has been proposed but not funded or built.)
 

mwmnp

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For a number of reasons, this really shouldn't be taken as a serious proposal. Rerouting the Southwest Chief through Pueblo would interfere with BNSF's directional running in the area. From La Junta to Pueblo and then Pueblo to Trinidad the westbound train would be running the "wrong way" as the La Junta-Pueblo line is primarily for eastbounds (technically southbounds, since many of the trains swing south past La Junta) while the Pueblo-Trinidad line is primarily for northbounds. Now there are slightly over 45 miles of double-track on the Pueblo-Trinidad line, but all of the double-track is non-signaled, meaning Amtrak would be limited to 59 mph, though realistically the actual speed may be slower as trains heading south from Pueblo to Mayne (located near exit 42 of I-25) grind uphill as the tracks rise about 2000 feet in elevation over the course of approximately 60 miles (the current westbound route from La Junta to Trindad also rises about 2000 feet, but over the course of about 80 miles). Furthermore, the track that the Chief would undoubtedly have to use in order to avoid running on the same track as BNSF trains is owned and dispatched by Union Pacific as part of the BNSF-UP joint line that extends north to Denver.

By far the elephant in the room with this proposal, though, is that this rerouting does absolutely nothing to address the fact that nobody but Amtrak uses the tracks from Trindad to Lamy. A long-term solution here would still be needed.
 

Just-Thinking-51

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Wichita KS at one point was paying for airline service to Denver CO.

They may still. Read a story once how the price was going up for the city to keep the air service.
 

XHRTSP

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 7, 2014
Messages
327
also might be disheartening enough to be driving I-25 and have the railcar zip by doing 40mph even faster (ie, to encourage drivers to abandon their cars).... one thing to have a RR out in the middle of nowhere where nobody see it, but to use the I-25 ROW: would self-advertise with every run.
Glad I'm not the only one who thinks all trains next to an interstate need 110 service. That just seems like a given for the reasons you stated.
Boardman, if you're reading this, make it so!
 

gmushial

OBS Chief
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Jun 21, 2013
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RDD
Checking my handy railroad atlas, it would be pretty easy to detour the train via Pueblo. Slower, certainly.

The thing is, I don't think this is going to work. Amtrak has set a deadline of end-of-2014 for getting the existing route funded, or it will start planning to relocate it to the faster Amarillo route.

It's clearly not a priority in Colorado, but suppose this bill goes through.

There are some state legislators in New Mexico pushing for funding, but New Mexico can't get funding unless Martinez is replaced by a pro-train governor -- and the election is in November 2014, not giving much time to find funding before Amtrak's deadline. Even a new governor may not make it a priority, as the reroute still service Albuquerque and the existing route would cost a lot more money.

No state legislators in Kansas are pushing for funding. Nothing will happen in Kansas unless the governor AND the legislative majority are unseated -- and the election is in November. Even if Brownback is unseated and Davis gets a Democratic majority in the legislature, I'm pretty sure the Kansas government will have other priorities. Indeed, Wichita will probably be advocating *for* the reroute. And Garden City etc. don't have any money of their own to contribute -- Wichita might.

I just don't see the funding coming through in time to maintain the existing route. It needs a *lot* of money, and the money isn't going to come through unless all three states agree.

Frankly, the Amarillo route is better anyway, although an Albuquerque-Pueblo-Denver route would be quite worthwhile. (The sticking point there is apparently coal-train crowding on the "Joint Line" between Pueblo and Denver. A "coal bypass" has been proposed but not funded or built.)
For a number of reasons, this really shouldn't be taken as a serious proposal. Rerouting the Southwest Chief through Pueblo would interfere with BNSF's directional running in the area. From La Junta to Pueblo and then Pueblo to Trinidad the westbound train would be running the "wrong way" as the La Junta-Pueblo line is primarily for eastbounds (technically southbounds, since many of the trains swing south past La Junta) while the Pueblo-Trinidad line is primarily for northbounds. Now there are slightly over 45 miles of double-track on the Pueblo-Trinidad line, but all of the double-track is non-signaled, meaning Amtrak would be limited to 59 mph, though realistically the actual speed may be slower as trains heading south from Pueblo to Mayne (located near exit 42 of I-25) grind uphill as the tracks rise about 2000 feet in elevation over the course of approximately 60 miles (the current westbound route from La Junta to Trindad also rises about 2000 feet, but over the course of about 80 miles). Furthermore, the track that the Chief would undoubtedly have to use in order to avoid running on the same track as BNSF trains is owned and dispatched by Union Pacific as part of the BNSF-UP joint line that extends north to Denver.

By far the elephant in the room with this proposal, though, is that this rerouting does absolutely nothing to address the fact that nobody but Amtrak uses the tracks from Trindad to Lamy. A long-term solution here would still be needed.
Since both of you understand the bigger picture involved here - might one or both of you get up on your soapboxes and paint a broader picture of what this reroute is (really) all about... please.

many thanks - greg
 

gmushial

OBS Chief
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RDD
Personally, when I saw the headline my first thought was "Who is Bill, and why is the SWC in danger?"
Yes, English is a type 2 grammar, ie, meaning is highly context dependent.
 
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Paulus

Conductor
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Jul 13, 2012
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1,469
Since both of you understand the bigger picture involved here - might one or both of you get up on your soapboxes and paint a broader picture of what this reroute is (really) all about... please.
The quick and dirty of the reroute is that BNSF is abandoning the Raton pass route; there isn't any local traffic and because of higher grades, they're consolidating all of its through traffic onto the Southern Transcon. The only trains that will be running on it will be Amtrak. As a result, BNSF is requiring that if Amtrak wishes to continue operating over that line, they, or any sponsoring government entities, will be solely responsible for maintenance on that line (as they are the sole users). There is approximately $100 million in needed repairs and I believe about ten million per year in annual maintenance required to maintain speeds higher than 40mph. BNSF has offered, at no additional cost, to host the Southwest Chief on the Southern Transcon instead. For whatever reason there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over this reroute.
 

gmushial

OBS Chief
Joined
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Messages
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RDD
Since both of you understand the bigger picture involved here - might one or both of you get up on your soapboxes and paint a broader picture of what this reroute is (really) all about... please.
The quick and dirty of the reroute is that BNSF is abandoning the Raton pass route; there isn't any local traffic and because of higher grades, they're consolidating all of its through traffic onto the Southern Transcon. The only trains that will be running on it will be Amtrak. As a result, BNSF is requiring that if Amtrak wishes to continue operating over that line, they, or any sponsoring government entities, will be solely responsible for maintenance on that line (as they are the sole users). There is approximately $100 million in needed repairs and I believe about ten million per year in annual maintenance required to maintain speeds higher than 40mph. BNSF has offered, at no additional cost, to host the Southwest Chief on the Southern Transcon instead. For whatever reason there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over this reroute.
thank you - much appreciated.
 

XHRTSP

Lead Service Attendant
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Jan 7, 2014
Messages
327
So for those of us who don't live between Wichita and Albuquerque (I'm assuming that's where the discontinuity will be), should we be happy, sad, or what?
 

gmushial

OBS Chief
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Messages
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RDD
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Nathanael

Guest
Isn't the decision on the reroute allegedly supposed to happen this month? :unsure:
I thought the decision was supposed to happen December 2014.

The quick and dirty of the reroute is that BNSF is abandoning the Raton pass route; there isn't any local traffic and because of higher grades, they're consolidating all of its through traffic onto the Southern Transcon. The only trains that will be running on it will be Amtrak. As a result, BNSF is requiring that if Amtrak wishes to continue operating over that line, they, or any sponsoring government entities, will be solely responsible for maintenance on that line (as they are the sole users). There is approximately $100 million in needed repairs and I believe about ten million per year in annual maintenance required to maintain speeds higher than 40mph. BNSF has offered, at no additional cost, to host the Southwest Chief on the Southern Transcon instead. For whatever reason there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over this reroute.
This is all correct. A few additional points:- The Southern Transcon (through Amarillo) is just as fast as the current route; possibly faster.

- The Southern Transcon would allow for station stops in Amarillo and in Wichita downtown; there is therefore more potential ridership on the Southern Transcon route.

- The rerouted train, coming from the east, would still stop at Newton, Kansas, and would then go to Wichita, to Amarillo, and finally to Albquerque, where it would resume the existing route.

- The stations which would lose service are mostly tiny towns with really low ridership, except for Lamy (used only for connecting service to Santa Fe), and Raton (used mostly to get to the Philmont Boy Scout Ranch).

- Connecting service to Santa Fe is now available from Albuquerque (via RailRunner) anyway.

- Obviously, the cities which would be bypassed are upset, as are the legislators from the bypassed districts, but they don't seem to have much influence in any of the three state legislatures.

- BNSF's current contract with Amtrak expires sometime in 2016. The current contract allows Amtrak to run across Raton Pass at the current cost -- but BNSF will demand the financial changes mentioned above in any contract made after 2016. Therefore, the reroute will happen in 2016.

- Amtrak has stated that it needs some lead time to prepare for the reroute (presumably in order to get stations built in Amarillo and Wichita, set up new crew change points, hire people, etc.) and therefore Amtrak told the states that if it doesn't get funding committed by the end of 2014, it will commit to the reroute.

- Amtrak took officials from all three states on a tour of the current route, and after that all three state governments declined to pay any money to keep the train on its current route.

- Amarillo city just bought the old train station in anticipation of the potential reroute.

- Wichita has been trying to get funding for a Heartland Flyer extension northerly through Wichita to Kansas City, so its city government will probably be gung-ho about getting Southwest Chief service.

- The developer who owns Wichita Union Station is also supportive of passenger train service to the station.

Things look quite optimistic for the reroute, as far as I am concerned. I'm looking forward to the reroute and I think it will improve ridership, revenue, and costs for the Southwest Chief.

But as Paulus says, there has been much upset about it from others -- understandable from the people living in cities which will be bypassed, of course.
 

Anderson

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Virginia
Just an observation, but deadlines like this tend to be flexible. If a deal is possibly on the table (Martinez loses or it looks like she's backing down/reversing course), Amtrak can slide it by a few months.
 
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Ispolkom

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St. Paul, Minn.
BNSF has offered, at no additional cost, to host the Southwest Chief on the Southern Transcon instead. For whatever reason there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over this reroute.
The wailing and gnashing is because many people think that the Southern Transcon has less interesting scenery than the Raton Pass route. I'd personally prefer that the Southwest Chief stay on its present route, just as I'd prefer the California Zephyr stay on its present D&RG route rather than revert to the San Francisco Zephyr route over the Overland route.

I've even planned a trip this November on the Southwest Chief to go over Raton Pass one last time in case the train is rerouted.

That being said, I don't think that it's a good use of Amtrak money to maintain the track that BNSF wants to abandon. Amtrak's capital funds are limited, and I think there are better ways to spend them.
 
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