KRTN Staff Reports The US Dept Of Transportation awarded a $15.2 million dollar grant for the Southwest Chief Route Advancement and Improvement Project that will continue essential upgrades to Amtrak’s Southwest Chief line.
The new funding is being awarded through the DOT’s Tiger VII grant program and will be used to add approximately 39 miles of new continuously welded rail and repair more than 20 miles of track roadbed.
The latest grant was awarded to La Junta, CO and will go along with the $12 million Tiger Grant awarded to Garden City, KS last year. Phase 2 of the project will cost about $24.5 million of a total projected $30 million to complete the entire project. Local match monies for the project totaled over $9 million and included one million each from the states of New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas, $4 million from Amtrak and $2 million from BNSF with the rest coming from individual cities and counties along the route.
Just three years ago, Amtrak was looking at an alternative route because BNSF was unwilling to maintain or repair tracks entirely at its own cost. Since then, BNSF has agreed to maintain any new rail put in, essentially cutting the cost of replacement and repair in half.
In 2013, about 350,000 passengers rode the SW Chief – a nearly 40 percent increase since 1997. Nearly one third of those passengers boarded or detrained at a New Mexico station. The NM Economic Development Dept. estimated that the route brings in more than $20 million in tourism revenue to New Mexico annually.