SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A proposal to bring Amtrak’s Southwest Chief train through New Mexico and two other states could get stopped in its tracks by Gov. Susana Martinez.
The New Mexican reports that proponents fear the plan to run Southwest Chief on tracks owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway will hinge on the Republican governor’s support.
While her office did not respond to questions Friday seeking comment, Martinez has said in recent months that Amtrak is funded by Congress and any agreement should not leave New Mexico taxpayers with a large bill.
“According to the New Mexico (Department of Transportation), the state has never provided State funds for Amtrak service,” Martinez’s office said in January. “We’re willing to work together on this issue, but any agreement needs to take that reality into account.”
Under the plan, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas and would split track maintenance costs and ensure the train route remain active beyond 2015. The partnering states and railroads would have to provide roughly $4 million a year each for a decade.
A bill introduced by State Rep. Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales that would call for New Mexico to contribute funding is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday before the House Transportation and Public Works Committee, which Gonzales chairs.
“As far as the legislative part, the committee, there’s not a problem,” Gonzales said. “To my knowledge, nobody has come out and said, ‘I can’t support that.’ Our hurdle is the Governor’s Office.”
Even if his bill advances, it could get vetoed in the end by the governor, Gonzales added.
In Colorado, the Southwest Chief expansion seems to be garnering more support across the board. Eric Brown, a spokesman for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, says the Democrat wants to keep the passenger train going and expand its route. Colorado lawmakers have already gained bipartisan support for a bill that would add a stop in Pueblo for the line.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, says the state cannot agree if the other states aren’t on board with funding.
“We are studying this and have had conversations with Amtrak, BNSF, Colorado and New Mexico, but all parties would need to be at the table financially to make this work,” said Eileen Hawley, Brownback’s spokeswoman.
The Southwest Chief, spanning from Los Angeles to Chicago, travels through several New Mexico cities including Albuquerque, Gallup, Lamy and Las Vegas. If no funding agreement is reached by the end of 2015, most of those cities as well as towns in Colorado and southwest Kansas will be eliminated from the route. Adding to the urgency, Burlington Railway announced it won’t maintain its tracks to endure high speeds of passenger trains. Lawmakers say the train would help increase economic development and tourism.