Passenger rail is a welcome transportation option for many Kansans.
With that in mind, it was encouraging to see the state’s two U.S. senators get behind a plan needed to maintain existing service on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief through southwest Kansas.
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran and U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts helped lead the charge to block negative change for the Southwest Chief, which runs from Los Angeles to Chicago, with stops in Dodge City and Garden City.
Unfortunately, Amtrak recently explored ending train service between Dodge City and Albuquerque, N.M., and incorporating bus rides for Garden City and other communities in between.
It was a bad idea, as Moran said during a recent visit to Garden City.
The good news was in U.S. Senate passage of a transportation appropriations bill with an amendment Moran and Roberts supported allocating $50 million for maintenance and safety improvements on the Southwest Chief line — a move intended to reverse the plan to eliminate part of the train service.
Deteriorating rail conditions have been an issue. In recent years, the collaborative effort of local, state and federal officials led to Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants that enabled track upgrades needed to keep the Southwest Chief on its current route.
But Amtrak wanted to renege on a $3 million contribution for track maintenance promised as part of a more recent $16 million TIGER grant to Colfax County, N.M., which fueled the latest conflict.
Previous federal TIGER grants went to Garden City ($12.4 million awarded in 2014) and LaJunta, Colo. ($15.2 million in 2015). The grants required matching funds from Amtrak, BNSF (owner of the track), Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico and communities along the route.
It was a wise investment in affordable transportation.
In 2017, Dodge City accounted for more than 5,200 Amtrak passengers, and Garden City nearly 7,000. Coach fares often cost less than $100, depending on the destination.
Using bus connections wouldn’t eliminate the service, but it would be less desirable to travelers and in turn hurt Amtrak financially — a lose-lose proposition.
Credit Kansas’ U.S. senators for doing their part in the collaborative effort to keep the Southwest Chief route on track. All federal lawmakers should get on board.
— Dena Sattler, The Dodge City Daily Globe