Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) made a listening stop tour in Halstead Sept. 8, hosting a town hall meeting in a full lecture hall at the Kansas Learning Center for Health.
Moran took time to discuss efforts to help Veterans get medical care through reforms of the Veteran’s Administration, attacks on the press by President Donald Trump, dysfunction in Washington, tariffs, rural life and other topics as they came up in the form of questions from his audience.
He also was able to take a very short victory lap, as Newton resident Sue Ice thanked Moran for his work this year to preserve the Southwest Chief — a long distance passenger train operated by Amtrak between Chicago and Los Angeles that makes six stops in Kansas, including a daily stop in Newton.
The crowd in attendance gave Moran applause for that work — which included a $50 million appropriation in a transportation bill to assist with upgrades to rail lines along the route. The amendment containing that appropriation, along with stipulations that Amtrak not use buses on the route.
“The challenge is that the BNSF owns the rail, and there is 400 miles or that route that the BNSF is not using, which means the maintenance of that falls to Amtrak,” Moran said. “We are helping this effort. This community is helping fund that effort to keep those trains running up to speed.”
Moran began working on the current funding amendment, which will be debated in conference committee this week and next, when Amtrak officials floated a plan to discontinue train service and sub in bus service between Dodge City and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“This is an effort to get rid of the Southwest Chief and it is broader than that in my view,” Moran said. “Amtrak is taking the view that they do not have to provide long distance service.”
Moran said there is also a philosophical discussion to be had — if taxpayer dollars should support something that cannot survive or make money on its own.
“If we come to the conclusion that should never happen, rural America is in a world of hurt,” Moran said. “Ask the United States Post Office if we believe they should provide service in small places, even though that is not where they make their money. In my view this issue has been decided, this is why Amtrak was created — to manage and run trains long distance across the country.”
Despite the appropriation, Moran sees the fight continuing. A meeting in Raton, New Mexico, between Amtrak officials and stakeholders left Moran, and others, with the impression that Amtrak planned to lobby against the appropriation and amendment in order to move forward with the bus service plan.
“They also talked about not running trains where positive train control is not in existence. They have since backed away from that — it is on again and off again,” Moran said.
Moran also levied a charge against Amtrak management — that Amtrak is looking for a way to get out of long-distance trains and out of rural areas.
“Here is the issue for me again. Amtrak has at least suggested that if there is not Positive Train Control they will not run on the line. Well, there is not positive train control in the northeast corridor … in some places … and I assure you, they will find some way to make sure that passenger train service continues in the northeast corridor, while they look for excuses to undo the train service we have in Kansas and elsewhere.”
Moran is cautiously optimistic his amendment will make it through committee and into the final bill — but did tell those in attendance he needs their help.
“I would be certain that if this important to you, that you make sure the Kansas representatives in the house know that is important to you,”