Grant ensures SW Chief will stay on current route

By Olivier Uyttebrouck / Journal Staff Writer
A federal agency has awarded a $15 million grant to upgrade a New Mexico rail line used primarily by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, including the replacement of 39 miles of track near Albuquerque, the state’s congressional delegation said Monday.
The U.S. Department of Transportation grant also helps settle questions about how to pay for track maintenance in New Mexico and two other states that prompted Amtrak officials last year to discuss rerouting the Southwest Chief.
“We had no desire to relocate, and we won’t,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said Monday. “We’re pledging to stay on this route and we’re putting money behind it, as are the states and the communities, and now the (U.S. Department of Transportation).”
The $15 million award is a part of a larger grant proposal submitted earlier this year to upgrade the Southwest Chief tracks in New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas.
The proposal included a $1 million contribution from the New Mexico Department of Transportation and $4 million from Amtrak.
The Southwest Chief operates a daily passenger service between Los Angeles and Chicago, with New Mexico stops in Gallup, Albuquerque, Lamy, Las Vegas and Raton.
An Amtrak official told New Mexico lawmakers last year that the nationwide passenger rail system might reroute the Southwest Chief to avoid northern New Mexico and Colorado if the states didn’t contribute money for track maintenance.
Amtrak was considering an alternative route that would have passed through Clovis, Texas and Oklahoma, lawmakers were told.
Earlier this year, officials in Kansas and Colorado committed $9.3 million to secure a federal matching grant of $12.5 million for track maintenance in those states.
The new grant award assures track maintenance in New Mexico, Magliari said.
The money will pay for 39 miles of new welded rail and 20 miles of roadbed upgrades in and around Albuquerque. BNSF Railway, which owns the track, will perform the upgrades, he said.
“The BNSF has agreed to maintain (the tracks) at a higher level so our trains can make good time across it,” he said.