Lawmakers request meeting with Amtrak CEO over funding for route

Lawmakers request meeting with Amtrak CEO over funding for route
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Thursday asked for a meeting with Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson over the company’s plans to deny funding for its Southwest Chief route pending additional financial investments.

The letter, penned by multiple House and Senate lawmakers in both parties, argues the route that runs through Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico is “vital to the economic well-being of our communities.”

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“The lack of transparency by Amtrak management about its changing position on the Southwest Chief is troubling, particularly for a Government-Sponsored Enterprise entrusted with an important public transportation mission,” the letter reads. 

“We request Amtrak take the lead in developing cooperative plans to ensure the Southwest Chief’s successful operation, including seeking funding from the various federal grant programs established to address these specific issues.”

Sens. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichOvernight Energy: Democrats ask if EPA chief misled on vehicle emissions | Dem senators want NBC debate focused on climate change | 2020 hopeful John Delaney unveils T climate plan Democratic senators want NBC primary debate to focus on climate change Collins offering bill to boost battery research as GOP pushes energy 'innovation' MORE (D-N.M.), Michael BennetMichael Farrand Bennet2020 Democrats spar over socialism ahead of first debate The Hill's 12:30 Report: Anticipation high ahead of first debate Where 2020 Democrats stand in betting markets ahead of first debate MORE (D-Colo.), Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart Udall2020 debates complicate Senate plans for vote on Trump's war authority Senate GOP to defeat proposal requiring approval for Iran attack GOP lays debate trap for 2020 Democrats MORE (D-N.M.), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranOvernight Defense: Officials brief Congress after Iran shoots down drone | Lawmakers fear 'grave situation' | Trump warns Iran | Senate votes to block Saudi arms sales | Bombshell confession at Navy SEAL's murder trial The 7 GOP senators who voted to block all or part of Trump's Saudi arms sale Senate votes to block Trump's Saudi arms sale MORE (R-Kan.), Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsEPA exempts farms from reporting pollution tied to animal waste Conservatives spark threat of bloody GOP primaries Juan Williams: Anti-abortion extremism is on the rise MORE (R-Kan.), and Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerMcSally on Moore running for Senate again: 'This place has enough creepy old men' Hillicon Valley: Senate sets hearing on Facebook's cryptocurrency plans | FTC reportedly investigating YouTube over children's privacy | GOP senator riles tech with bill targeting liability shield | FAA pushed to approve drone deliveries Senate panel advances bill to protect government devices against cyber threats MORE (R-Colo.) signed the document, as did a group of House lawmakers from New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas.

Amtrak has put conditions on its decision to contribute funds to a project on the route. The letter comes in response to a message the company sent to Congress responding to questions about plans for the route.

The rail company in its remarks to lawmakers referenced a letter from last year to the Colfax County Commission in New Mexico, in which Amtrak said it would withhold the matching funds for the project aimed at rehabilitating the Southwest Chief route until other stakeholders invest in the infrastructure.

“Amtrak will offer a $3 million match towards the project costs if the grant application for the requested amount is successful,” Amtrak CFO William Feidt wrote in the October letter that was submitted with the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant application.

“Before Amtrak will fulfill this contribution, a comprehensive financial plan and accompanying commitments by relevant states and BNSF for the remainder of the infrastructure investments and associated additional maintenances costs for this route in New Mexico must be completed,” Feidt added, referring to the BNSF Railway.

Democratic lawmakers from New Mexico announced in March that Colfax County had received a $16 million TIGER grant for the project, aimed at rehabilitating the Southwest Chief line, which operates from Chicago, Ill., to Los Angeles, Calif.

But Amtrak is insisting the other parties pitch in financially and develop a strategy for “long-term financial commitments” to rebuild the route operating from Hutchinson, Kan., and Albuquerque, N.M. 

“A piecemeal approach to solving this problem that leads to higher operating costs and new capital obligations for Amtrak’s long distance routes isn’t sustainable, especially as we face vast needs for fleet, station and infrastructure improvements across the National Network,” Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari said in a statement to The Hill.

“We stand prepared to consider any such plan as we consider alternatives for this portion of the route.”

Reps. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Jared PolisJared Schutz PolisNumber of openly LGBTQ elected officials rose nearly 25 percent since 2018: report GOP gun rights activist arrested for flashing handgun at U.S. marshal First openly gay man elected governor marks Pride with flag at state capitol MORE (D-Colo.), Michelle Lujan GrishamMichelle Lynn Lujan GrishamBorder militia group member charged with impersonation of a US border patrol agent New Mexico bans employers from asking about applicants' criminal history Trump antagonizes both parties on trade MORE (D-N.M), Steve PearceStevan (Steve) Edward PearceNew Mexico Dems brace for crowded race to succeed Udall The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority The legal scandal that no one is talking about MORE (R-N.M.) and Lynn JenkinsLynn Haag JenkinsAnti-corruption group hits Congress for ignoring K Street, Capitol Hill 'revolving door' K Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers Pompeo seen as top recruit for Kansas Senate seat MORE (R-Kan.) also signed the Thursday letter, in which lawmakers say it’s “essential” that the funding be utilized to sustain “the Southwest Chief on its current route.”