The Southwest Chief Rail Road line for Amtrak has become an increasing issue in terms of whether it will remain in place.

Recently, talks were heightened with the rail line closing and a bus line system being put in its place.

U.S. Congressman Roger Marshall, fresh off his primary election victory, was in Dodge City this week to meet with city officials regarding Amtrak.

"It is a very real possibility," Marshall said Tuesday of the Southwest Chief rail line closing down. "Kansas and Colorado have done things to make this work where New Mexico is not going to do.

"Right now the Federal government is subsidizing Amtrak tickets across the country to a great extent, so what I am trying to do is break it down to say how much of that impact is here but it's a very real possibility."

In June, Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson told members of Congress that the railway system was considering replacing train service between Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Dodge City with buses.

The nearly 2,300-mile passenger train service has run daily between Chicago and Los Angeles since 1974. It’s been known as the Southwest Chief since 1984.

As the Amtrak service starts to disappear, the long term service would begin to fall in totality.

With the possible bus service replacement, Marshall said, "It wouldn't work as well as the Amtrak would. The domino-effect would start in New Mexico and how far northeast would that go. Once that goes away then its Colorado then Garden City then its Dodge City.

"We awarded the TIGER grants, at the infrastructure part of this and that's what makes sense but now with New Mexico not doing their part in the infrastructure and the subsidy seems to be becoming bigger and bigger."

Within the past year, Dodge City, Newton, Hutchinson and Garden City matched three TIGER grants with Kansas Department of Transportation also contributing $3 million towards TIGER grant VI and $1 million for TIGER grants VII and IX each.

In March of this year, the Department of Transportation announced that New Mexico was granted $16 million in TIGER grants to go towards repairs of the Southwest Chief rail line in New Mexico's Colfax County that will fund rail line repairs in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico.

On Aug. 1, a bipartisan amendment was passed in the U.S. Senate by a 92-6 vote that would provide money for improvements along the train’s route between Chicago and Los Angeles.

The amendment was put in place as part of a multimillion dollar Department of Transportation funding bill in the amount of $50 million.

As part of the amendment, Amtrak would need to provide the matching grant put in place in Colfax County, New Mexico, with an added stipulation that Amtrak would not be able to alter the Southwest Chief route at this time.

"My concern as a Congressman is Amtrak being efficient as they could, Marshall said. "Are they using your tax payer dollars efficiently or are they just basically laying it upon us to do it."

The next deadline would be the transportation, housing and urban development appropriations bill and the monitoring of the amendment made to the bill which could be voted on in September.

According to Marshall and his staff, the bill may not make it to the floor as a standalone bill, it may get wrapped up into a larger bill.

"The hope is to get it into the appropriations bill which most likely will need to go through in September," Marshall said. "That is our next marching orders is working with the Congressman in New Mexico."

The appropriation bill will be for the providing of the $50 million in new funding to assist Amtrak fulfill that promise of the matching funding of the TIGER grant.

Amtrak's portion of the grant would be $3 million.

The bill that will reach the House next month when Congress is back in session has bipartisan sponsorship led by Republican U.S. Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas, and is co-sponsored by U.S. Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, along with U.S. Senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, Republican and Democratic Senators from Colorado.

"It's a complicated web," Marshall said. "We're trying to work with Senator Moran's office to make sure we keep the railroad track going. "I feel like in Kansas we have kept up our end of the bargain, we've done everything we can and now the bottleneck is in New Mexico for a variety of reasons, we need New Mexico and Amtrak do their part to keep this open and how much is going to fall back on the Federal government."

As sudden as the rail line closing may seem, it has been brewing for quite some time.

"I thought six months ago we had it all solved," Marshall said. "And then to me, with what happened in New Mexico, with the TIGER grants and the state monies, local monies, Federal monies all working together to solve the problem.

"To me this southwest Kansas coalition coming together has been the big story. Liberal, Garden City, Dodge City, all together seem to be better organized with so many types of problems so when they come with one voice, we listen to them versus just one city because its easier to bring it attention.

"All of southwest Kansas sticking together and prioritizing it.

"Deep down inside I am concerned that Amtrak is not being efficient as they can be and the big question I have is, is Amtrak using this as leverage to get more money out of the Federal government, that is a big question I have."

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