ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - Amtrak's key rail service through New Mexico is facing a big problem as hundreds of miles of track is falling apart, there's no money to fix it and if there's no solution, passenger service on the route could leave Albuquerque entirely.
But a new effort from a tri-group has sprung up with hopes that they can save the service in the next year before it’s too late.
Amtrak’s Southwest Chief train service is facing the problem. Without a deal to fix around 600 miles of rail in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico, the service may have re-route through New Mexico, skipping many of the state’s largest cities.
Running daily between Los Angeles and Chicago and carrying about 60,000 passengers out of Albuquerque each year, a former Albuquerque city planner, Jon Messier says the “Southwest Chief” train is a vital piece of transit infrastructure for the metro area and northern New Mexico.
“Smaller cities and towns really depend on Amtrak because they have no other means of transportation to and from their towns,” said Messier.
However, Messier and hundreds of others are worried about the train’s future due to the work needed on the 600 mile stretch that needs to be replaced. While Amtrak covers about 80% of its own operating costs, the service hasn’t ever had a funding mechanism to care for the rails it uses.
The track’s owner, BNSF is asking for Amtrak to pay for a portion of the repairs to keep the track open for high-speed trains (79 mph.) Amtrak’s portion of the repairs is estimated to cost about 100-million dollars over the next ten years. With an agreement expiring on the track’s use by 2015, Amtrak is running out of time, according to Messier.
“We stand to lose quite a bit,” said Messier.
If the agreement expires with no new funding mechanism in place, the Southwest Chief’s service could be forced to change from stops in Raton, Las Vegas, Lamy and Albuquerque, to only a few stops in Clovis, Belen and Gallup.
It’s something riders don’t like.
"Most of our family live out here so from California to coming out here its a really good convenient thing to do instead driving your car,” said Juliana Anguiano, an Albuquerque resident who relies on the train for family trips.
Vendors like Betty Yellowhorse say Albuquerque train riders are 75% of her business.
“I wouldn't like to see the Amtrak bypass Albuquerque,” said Yellowhorse.
Hoping to help, Messier and the "Southwest Chief Coalition" are working now, hoping to get at least a majority portion of the 100-millon dollars from Congress over the next ten years to fix the rail.
“They have a responsibility for setting up a long-term capital financing problem for the nation’s passenger railroad,” said Messier.
A weekend meeting in Pueblo, Colorado brought more than 100-officials together from Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico to talk about the issue. Their plan is to start lobbying now to save the rail before it’s too late.
“If you remove one type of transportation from the mix of transportation that serves the city, your economy is permanently diminished. Both in the present and its future possibilities,” said Messier.
One of the possible outcomes to fix the problem is to leverage money from the states, however, no decisions have been made yet.
The Southwest Chief Coalition says if Amtrak routes its service around Albuquerque, New Mexico Rail Runner also stands to lose about 1.5 million dollars a year, which Amtrak pays to use part of the service’s line.
While Bernalillo County leaders continue to look for a way out of a risky investment plan that’s already cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, the Treasurer’s Office insists it has an exit strategy well in hand.
Two Hobbs men face capital murder charges in Texas after being charged with the death of a woman whose body was dumped in New Mexico.
Today’s top headlines with Matt Mauro, Elizabeth Alvarez and meteorologist Kristen Van Dyke.
UNM athletics is rolling out a new points program to determine which fans get access to The Pit's best seats, postseason tickets and prime parking spots.
A pair of Lobo football players were honored by the Mountain West on Tuesday.
A recent Christmas Eve tradition that's become increasingly popular in Santa Fe has been shot down.