Miner Editorial | Congress must act to save the Southwest Chief
Rail enthusiasts are sounding the alarm that the Southwest Chief passenger-rail route, which has tracks in states including Arizona, California Colorado, New Mexico and Kansas, may be at risk as the agency makes cuts on long-distance lines.
We need Congress to intervene and restate what our national policy is on passenger rail service. It has always been to have a national rail service, not just passenger trains in the Northeast corridor. It can’t be that taxpayers subsidize train service for commuters in the Northeast and the rest of the country does without.
The Southwest Chief line runs from Chicago to Los Angeles with stops across the southwest, including Kingman and Flagstaff.
The cuts along the line are an added punch to the news that the company, now headed up by former Delta Airlines executive Richard Anderson, wants to cut service.
Tony Trifiletti, All Aboard Arizona’s executive director. and Roger Clark of the passenger-rail advocacy group All Aboard Arizona, brought their save-the-trains campaign to Kingman on Tuesday, Oct. 29.
Judging by the response, many area residents and riders are on board with the group’s effort to not only preserve but expand Amtrak, the government-owned national inter-city rail system, according to an Oct. 31 Daily Miner article.
The threat is not immediate, and it’s not the first-time the Southwest Chief and other cross-country trains have been targeted. Several years ago, Amtrak proposed making the Chief a combined bus-rail route, but withdrew the proposal when the riding public protested, the article said.
Amtrak is currently funded by a continuing budget resolution through Nov. 21, and rail proponents are fighting for a bigger share of the proposed $2 trillion federal transportation budget.
Trifiletti, All Aboard Arizona’s executive director, said Anderson has called long-distance rail travel “a relic of the past.”
Trifiletti disagrees. Without those trains, he said in the article, significant portions of America would lose their lifelines.
“Vast sections of the American heartland aren’t going to be able to get around,” Trifiletti said, noting Amtrak provides the only public transportation option in some rural communities in an age of declining inter-city bus service.
While the northeast corridor has new trains, equipment on cross-country trains is aging, with some of the double-decker Superliner cars on the Southwest Chief dating back to the 1980s.
“The mechanics call them maintenance shops on wheels,” Trifiletti said. “Our goal is not only to keep the system running, but to get some extra money for new equipment,” Trifiletti said in the article.
Mohave County Treasurer Cindy Landa Cox praised Amtrak’s food and service, describing a trip she took on the Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to the San Francisco area.
But she said many Americans question if long-distance rail is the best use of taxpayers’ dollars when roads, bridges and other infrastructure are also in disrepair.
“‘This is a luxury. This is not a need,’ they say,” Cox said, parroting critics and playing the “devil’s advocate.”
The Southwest Chief is a necessary transportation artery serving the needs of rural Southwest and Midwest residents. For some, it acts as a transportation artery to take them from rural areas to larger urban areas.
Congress must take action to assure that this vital transportation corridor is maintained to serve the needs of rural residents.