Future of Southwest Chief weighing on Federal Grant

GARDEN CITY, Kan. — States affected by a potential reroute for the Southwest Chief train line are working together to try to secure a federal grant.

New technology allows passenger trains to travel faster, but an outdated section of railway between Hutchinson, Kansas and Lamy, New Mexico can’t handle those speeds. Originally, Amtrak proposed splitting the cost of repairs with Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, and BNSF (Burlington Northern Railway Santa Fe, the owner of the railway), but an agreement couldn’t be made.

Amtrak said it would have to reroute the Southwest Chief if they can’t come up with the funds.  That would leave nine towns without train service.

“It would be, I think, very bad for this community,” said Anita McGraw, a Garden City resident and frequent passenger on the train. “We’re already isolated enough. We only have two flights out a day.”

Kansas towns aren’t letting the Chief go without a fight. Garden City turned in a grant application this week that would make up for the majority of the $24 million needed to upgrade the track.

There’s already $9 million devoted to the project between town contributions, Amtrak’s $4 million pledge and K-DOT’s $3 million.

The $15 million requested in the grant proposal would go toward fixing the worst parts of the track along the affected route. Even though everything wouldn’t be updated right away, it would be enough of an improvement for Amtrak to allow the Southwest Chief to continue running as usual.

“We’re going to continue working with BNSF and the affected three states to try to find a solution,” said Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesperson, “because we want the Southwest Chief to stay in the parts of Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico that it serves.”

BNSF said they don’t need to improve their track for freight and grain transport, but they do support what Amtrak is trying to do for its passengers.

While they wait to hear back about the grant, Garden City and other towns are hoping for the best.

“We’re optimistic, but is a very competitive, highly sought after source of federal funding,” said Garden City City Manager Matt Allen.

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