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.”

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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.”

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