Will Amtrak service in Kansas City impact the Southwest Chief?

Amtrak (KSN File Photo)

WICHITA, Kansas — After a KSHB News story revealed that if a deal isn’t reached to fund $32 million in required track upgrades by December 2015, Amtrak officials said it will be forced to reroute or cancel service to and from Kansas City, KSN News is checking into how this development could impact the Southwest Chief line to and from Newton and Western portions of the state.

Emergency personnel work at the scene of a deadly train derailment, Wednesday, May 13, 2015, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The concern came after the May 2015 Amtrak derailment and crash in Philadelphia.

An Amtrak train en route to New York from Washington, D.C. derailed in Philadelphia, killing eight people and injuring as many as 200 people.

Death toll in Amtrak wreck hits 8; all aboard accounted for

The U.S. Congress, now, mandating that railway infrastructure is desperately needed and required, through the system known as ‘Positive Train Control,’ or PTC, by the end of 2015.

According to the Association of American Railroads, Positive Train Control is “a set of highly advanced technologies designed to automatically stop a train before certain types of accidents occur.”

“PTC is a sophisticated, predictive system that works to prevent accidents. The technology must account for a number of factors to measure the appropriate train stopping distance, including train information (weight, length); track composition (curvature, terrain); train speed; and train authority (authorization to move across a stretch of track)​.”

– Association of American Railroads

“I think what this represents is an overreaction on Congress’ part,” said Barth Hague, a member of the Amtrak Customer Advisory Committee. “Congress has mandated that Positive Train Control be installed on Amtrak lines by the end of this year. That’s a daunting task. It’s terribly expensive.”

Hague told KSN News that the cost of PTC in Kansas City is about $30 million.

“It’s just not something that’s feasible for Amtrak to do in a very short amount of time,” Hague said.

In the Kansas City area, Amtrak is now in a legal fight with Kansas City Terminal, the rail owner, over who will pay for the cost of PTC.

“Amtrak is only about 2 percent to 3 percent of the traffic here, yet, is being expected to pay 100 percent of the cost,” said John Fairfield, with the KC Regional Transit Alliance.

Courtesy: Twitter, Marc Magliari
Courtesy: Twitter, Marc Magliari

In a statement, Amtrak officials said,

“Given the priority for safety, compliance with federal law, and lack of available funding for the installation of PTC, Amtrak has little choice but to reroute or possibly terminate the Southwest Chief and the River Runner service by the end of 2015.”

– Marc Magliari, Amtrak Spokesman

“Here’s a problem that affects the entire [Southwest Chief] line, and unfortunately, this is one that the communities along western Kansas and eastern Colorado, don’t have a lot of direct control over,” said Barth Hague, a member of the Amtrak Customer Advisory Committee.

After years of fighting to provide improvements to the quality of track on the Southwest Chief line in western Kansas, in order to maintain its existence there, people in the industry say this could be just another hit the communities don’t need. 

“There’s been a constant concern about the viability of this line past Newton,” said Hague. “This would be a big blow to Kansas, and particularly those cities, but, to all the 33 or so cities that are served by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.”

Now, Hague says, too much is at risk.

“A lot is threatened, in terms of not just ridership, but also the prospect of the Heartland Flyer coming north,” said Hague. “That’s something that Newton, as well as a number of other communities have been fighting hard for, and without the Southwest Chief, it’s really less attractive to bring the Heartland Flyer north.”

Hague told KSN that most people in the industry, in the Midwest and further West, believe this issue will be resolved. He says the concern is about time. 

“The idea of actually pulling a route off of Amtrak’s long distance system over this issue is really one that could be resolved with some timing changes. I think, over time, there will be Positive Train Control installed all along the route. It’s just that it can’t get accomplished in a short amount of time.”

KSN has reached out to officials with the city of Newton, who say they have not been a part of this conversation.

At this time, we are told it is uncertain if or how the line may be impacted.

For more information about PTC, visit the Association of American Railroads’ website: Positive Train Control.

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