TIGER grant saves rural train service

Amtrak (KSN File Photo)

GARDEN CITY, Kansas– The Southwest Chief runs from Chicago to LA, but three years ago Amtrak announced it might have to stop service through Central and Western Kansas because of outdated tracks.

It’s a section of worn down track between Hutchinson, Kansas, and Lamy, New Mexico that had Amtrak considering a route change, cutting most of Central and Western Kansas out of Amtrak service.

“We have around 8,000 people that get on and off this train in Garden City per year,” said State Representative John Doll, a former Vice Mayor of Garden City.  “I feel this is part of our heritage and part of our future, so I thought it was really an important issue for us.”

Colorado, New Mexico, and Kansas towns would all be affected.  So, the towns came together to apply for a TIGER grant, or Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery.

“It was a combined effort through, not only people in Kansas, but also Colorado and New Mexico who really view passenger service as a priority,” said Garden City Mayor Roy Cessna.

The towns started working to save their railroad service three years ago, and on Wednesday morning the Department of Transportation announced that Garden City will be awarded nearly $12.5 million through the TIGER grant program.

“It’s all going to go into the tracks, the ties have to be upgraded.  Right now in the rails we have what’s called split rails,” Doll explained.  The gaps in the railroad force trains to slow down to less than 40 miles per hour to be safe, but for Amtrak to move their passengers efficiently, they’d like to be going closer to 90 miles per hour.

The grant money, along with $9 million in state and local funds will go toward 55 miles of track between Newton and La Junta, Colorado, the area considered most in need of repairs.

There is still more work to be done West of La Junta, but Amtrak says they continue to make progress.

“The Southwest Chief is very valuable to us as a route,” said Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari.  “We’re going to work very hard to stay right where we are, with daily service across that part of the country.”

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