Two local governmental leaders, Leory Koehn, vice mayor for Newton, and Chip Westfall, county commissioner, made use of an invitation to the White House this week.
"I enjoyed it very much, it was educational and it was good," Koehn said. "I would do it again in a heart beat. I think it was a good investment for me since I did not spend any taxpayer dollars."
But the day in Washington, D.C., was not all a pleasure cruise. Koehn and Westfall were also able to meet with members of Congress and Washington department heads to talk about issues.
For Koehn, he took the opportunity to talk about the Southwest Chief — a passenger train that stops in Newton every day that Amtrak is threatening to break into pieces and substitute buses for trains on portions of the route in Colorado and New Mexico. The Chief runs between Chicago and Los Angeles.
"One of the things I led with was to ask more questions and to push (Sen. Jerry Moran and Sen. Pat Roberts) on making their voices heard on the Southwest Chief," Koehn said. "They both believe they have the votes in the Senate and in the House for the amendment. ... That is a one-year thing. ... They don't know after that."
Sen. Jerry Moran teamed up with Sen. Tom Udall (D-Utah) to create an amendment to a transportation bill that forces Amtrak to spend $50 million on track upgrades, and support a $25 million TIGER grant approved earlier this year that the company backed away from.
That bill is headed to conference committee. Amtrak has said the deadline to make improvements, and for a decision on the future of the Southwest Chief, is Dec. 31. In a presentation to senators in June, Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson claimed that there are $50 million in track upgrades in Colorado and New Mexico that must be made — including the installation of Positive Train Control. He also outlined more than $40 million in equipment upgrades needed in the next three to five years.
Koehn said the impression he got from Roberts is if the funding amendment passes, it is doubtful Amtrak will break up the Southwest Chief. Amtrak has not made any announcements about the future of the train.
Koehn said another issue he and other mayors spoke about with leaders was broadband internet access and 5G wireless access.
In addition to meeting with members of the congressional delegation, local leaders were also able to meet federal department representatives to discuss a number of different issues.
"We had a great day, visiting with nine different federal departments that send money into Harvey County," Westfall said. "We talked about schools, which was basically school safety for us ... We talked about trade with the department of ag. We talked about mental health in many ways, but the biggest one they are working on right now that is coming to us in the correctional side of it. ... We talked about transportation in the future."