Arizona group intent on saving Amtrak’s Southwest Chief

The Southwest Chief stops daily at Kingman’s historic train depot on Andy Devine Avenue, though the passenger train service is on the verge of elimination by Amtrak’s new management. (Daily Miner file photo)

The Southwest Chief stops daily at Kingman’s historic train depot on Andy Devine Avenue, though the passenger train service is on the verge of elimination by Amtrak’s new management. (Daily Miner file photo)

KINGMAN – While Congress has approved record funding for Amtrak, management refuses to order state-of-the-art equipment that could improve the passenger train service and instead is intent on eliminating trains such as the Southwest Chief, an advocate for rail service said.

Tony Trifiletti, executive director of All Aboard Arizona, said Amtrak intends to truncate the Southwest Chief between La Junta, Colorado, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, and substitute it with chartered buses to operate 260 miles on the highway in lieu of the passenger train.

“We know most passengers, especially seniors and mobility-impaired persons, will not tolerate leaving two regional passenger trains to board a bus connecting station endpoints of La Junta and Albuquerque,” Trifiletti said in a recent letter to All Aboard Arizona members.

As a result, the Chief’s ridership and revenue numbers will plummet and the route will soon disappear entirely, Trifiletti said. He firmly believes other remaining passenger trains will be meet a similar fate.

He said Amtrak “wrongly” maintains that it cannot operate the Southwest Chief on the 196-mile segment between Trinidad, Colorado, and Lamy, New Mexico, because it does not have positive train control, or PTC.

The Federal Railroad Administration has exempted that requirement because the Southwest Chief is the only train operating on that line and it is protected by automatic train stop.

Amtrak management informed Colfax County, New Mexico, that it will not honor a prior commitment of $3 million in spite of TIGER grants approved from on-route states, counties and communities.

Also, Burlington Northern Santa Fe has agreed to honor line improvement commitments and to maintain the track for passenger train routes for the next 20 years.

However, without the $3 million from Amtrak, other funding commitments will not be made, Tifiletti noted.

Southwest Chief runs daily from Chicago to Los Angeles with a stop in Kingman. It picks up westbound passengers at 11:46 p.m. and eastbound passengers at 1:28 a.m. at the historic train depot on Andy Devine Avenue.

Six U.S. senators and several congressional representatives from Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico met with Amtrak President Richard Anderson in June and urged him to honor the $3 million commitment to Colfax County. Their requests were rebuffed, Trifiletti said.