Dodge City Daily Globe - Dodge City, KS
  • How important is passenger rail service?

  • A special train stopped in Dodge City Thursday afternoon.
    The train was carrying representatives of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF), AMTRAK and the Kansas state government.
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  • A special train stopped in Dodge City Thursday afternoon. The train was carrying representatives of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF), AMTRAK and the Kansas state government. The group was traveling from Newton to La Junta, Colo., picking up city officials along the way. "It's really a trip for fun," said Ray Lang, chief of state government relations with AMTRAK. "We're making this trip to have some quality time with representatives of towns along the Santa Fe Chief route — we have someone from every stop from Newton to Trinidad aboard with us," Lang said. Lang and other officials will convey information, strengthen networks and discuss solutions to a looming problem. In January of 2016, AMTRAK's operational agreement with BNSF will expire. At that time, BNSF intends to revise maintenance standards along the route due to decreased traffic. That means passenger trains using the route would have to reduce speeds and possibly stop using the route altogether. This has lead to discussion of moving the passenger route to a southern alternative, passing through Oklahoma rather than Kansas. "AMTRAK's current corporate position is that we want to stay on this route," Lang said. "But we need help." The help Lang refers to would be a project to upgrade the tracks at a cost of $100 million over 10 years. A number of proposals suggest that funds could come partly from AMTRAK, partly from BNSF and partly from state and federal sources. A coalition of towns along the route has formed to help with the effort. "This is a beautiful historic train station," Lang said, "And it's been beautifully restored. Most of the communities along this route have made investments in restoring their stations — we want to protect that and continue to provide them passenger service." Modern speed? With track condition and speed limitation on the table, Dave Webb, assistant director at the Kansas Heritage Center and a train enthusiast, uncovered some interesting information. "When the dieselized Super Chief was inaugurated in May of 1937, it was scheduled to cover the 202 miles between Dodge and La Junta at an average speed of 87.2 mph (stops included). Within a few months, the Atchison Topeka Santa Fe railroad sped up the schedules of nearly all its passenger trains through here. Railroaders called it the "Speedway." Speed limit for passenger trains (diesel AND steam) was 100 mph, but they had authorization to run up to 110 in order to make up time. A trainmaster I visited with at the depot Thursday said old-timers told him they ran up to 115," Webb said. "Amtrak's current westbound schedule out of Dodge is an average speed of 52.7, including stops." The Santa Fe Chief route from Chicago to Los Angeles was an integral component of the country's transportation system before commercial airlines became available. "This route was known as the Santa Fe's passenger route because all the best known Chicago-LA trains ran via Raton Pass. In 1910 there were 14 regular passenger trains through Dodge each day, not counting extra sections or special trains. There will still 14 daily passenger trains in 1942, including the Super Chief, El Capitan, Chief, Fast Mail Express, California Limited and Centennial State. It was down to 8 per day in the 1960s. Amtrak took over May 1, 1971," Webb said. Officials who boarded the special train Thursday had time to brainstorm on their way to La Junta then their car was to be coupled to the regular AMTRAK eastbound train for the return trip and arrival in Dodge City Friday morning.
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