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Amtrak Officials Return to Lamar, Discuss Rail Upgrade Strategies

Joe Boardman and Rick Klein, La Junta City Managerf

Joe Boardman and Rick Klein, La Junta City Managerf

The Tiger VIII Funding grant for 2016 for BNSF railroad track improvements was passed over for 2016. Members of the Southwest Chief Commission are requesting a debriefing from CDOT officials to determine why, in light of past awards on Tiger Grant VI and VII applications in the previous two years.  Lamar City Administrator, John Sutherland, said that was a part of the commission’s priorities during an Amtrak ‘whistle stop’ held in Lamar on Thursday, August 4th.  Area municipal leaders from Kansas and Colorado whose communities share the rail line used by Amtrak for its Southwest Chief route, met with Amtrak President, Joe Boardman, to discuss plans for continuing funding improvements to the rail line, necessary to keep the Southwest Chief route active through Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico.

On Right: La Junta Mayor Lynn Horner

On Right: La Junta Mayor Lynn Horner

A coalition of cities in Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico combined their efforts starting in 2013 to raise matching funds which would finance BNSF rail line repairs to help prevent a change in the passenger route of the Southwest Chief line which runs through those states and into Chicago and points east. Officials from Dodge City and Garden City, Kansas as well as Lamar and La Junta discussed these matters with Amtrak President, Joe Boardman, during the brief rail trip between Lamar and La Junta on Thursday.

Lamar Amtrak Depot

Lamar Amtrak Depot

Local leaders aren’t giving up on attempting securing funding from CDOT. A memo outlined the decision from this past March 16th to direct the funding to the FASTLANE projects in the state.

“Southwest Chief Match
The SWC Commission is working with Kansas and New Mexico and looking for a project sponsor for a TIGER VIII application for Phase III of the track replacement/repair. CDOT will not sponsor an application. However, the Southwest Chief Commission is requesting that CDOT support an application with a $1M match commitment if an award is made. Staff recommends the Transportation Commission allocate $1M of residual transit funds from SB1 (total residual is approximately $12M). These funds would be expended only if a SWC TIGER VIII grant is awarded.”

CDOT officials decided to fund $25M out of a $210M improvements project along the northern I-25 Corridor north of Denver, stating that the financial return on road revenues would be more readily attained.

Earlier this summer, Pueblo County Commissioners presented a study indicating that an Amtrak connecting route and stop-over in Pueblo could generate 15,000 new riders and $1.5M in ticket sales for the year. Amtrak President Boardman said he was aware of the study, but some discussion was needed on the logistics of such a proposal.  “When you have ridership and money, that’s a heavy influence.  We’d have to do it with a train turnaround once we’re in the city to find a way to get in and back out of there.  What I’d like to see is us run the whole Front Range right down from Denver.  I think that’s really the better part, but we understand Pueblo has a specific interest.  We’d have to have the rail planners conduct a study,” he explained.

Lamar Administrator Sutherland said he intends to pursue the Tiger Grants into the future and determine what occurred to postpone any funding on the VIII application. “This line can foster tourism from outside our area and is important to our overall economic development in southeast Colorado.  I expect to get some information from our requests in about a month.”

By Russ Baldwin

Filed Under: City of LamarConsumer IssuesCountyEconomyFeaturedHot TopicsPoliticsTourismTransportation

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