When Congress passed the FY2019 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related (THUD) Appropriations Act there was a piece of legislation nestled within that preserved passenger rail in Kansas.
Last summer, Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and senators from Colorado and New Mexico began work to appropriate $50 million for the Southwest Chief, a long distance passenger train operated by Amtrak that connects Los Angeles and Chicago with stops in 31 cities in between.
"Included in this legislation are several priorities important to our state, including funding for the Southwest Chief and the FAA Contract Tower Program, language to deter air traffic control privatization and resources to continue critical research being done at our institutes of higher education,” Moran said in a statement.
This is, for passenger rail in Kansas, a big deal.
Moran and senators from Colorado and New Mexico became involved after a meeting with Amtrak leadership last summer. During that meeting, Amtrak leadership revealed a plan to stop operating a train between Albuquerque, New Mexico, and western Kansas. That plan called for a bus bridge — the use of buses to get passengers from western Kansas to Albuquerque — removing the train from Lamar, Trinidad and Lajunta in Colorado and Raton, Las Vegas and Lamy in New Mexico.
Amtrak cited needed track repairs and installation of positive train control along the portion of the route targeted for the bus bridge. During the meeting last summer, Amtrak announced it would not appropriate $3 million in matching funds for a TIGER Grant to install PTC along the route. Since that time, the state of New Mexico has received a grant for installation of PTC for a portion of the New Mexico route.
And, the Moran appropriation brings $50 million to the table for the route.
Rail advocates claimed at the time that a bus bridge would lead to the destruction of the Southwest Chief — and it would halt a possible expansion of the Heartland Flyer northward out of Oklahoma to Wichita and Newton.
The Rail Passengers Association recently did a study that showed that the bus bridge would have caused a loss of $180 million annually between Dodge City and Albuquerque - and $17 million in Kansas.
The Southwest Chief currently serves Lawrence, Topeka, Newton, Hutchinson, Dodge City and Garden City in Kansas. Newton is the busiest passenger rail station in the state.