Lamar City Council, Prowers County Discuss Funding Rail Line Upgrades

Lamar Amtrak Depot

Lamar Amtrak Depot

Rick Klein, La Junta City Manager, detailed the unique success story of how local funding from numerous small communities in three states, has directly related to 127 miles of improvements for railroad tracks and infrastructure. The latest funding effort marks the third year the Lamar City Council has joined with other communities in Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico to secure matching grants and the services of a national lobbying firm to finance improved railroad lines for BNSF and Amtrak to maintain the passenger route for Amtrak’s Southwest Chief service.

This past Monday, March 28th during a Lamar City Council work session, Klein explained that the 127 miles of improvements are not contiguous, but have been spaced out along the multi-state route where the rails are in most need of replacement.  Because the Southwest Chief is a passenger line, the standards are higher for rail line quality than it would be for a freight carrier.  Without the upgrades, the passenger service, which must travel at slower speeds corresponding with rail quality, would come to an end.  To date, various contributions have totaled $9,233,000 to be used in conjunction with TIGER grants, applied to transportation improvements.  Where rail quality has improved, the Southwest Chief can return to a safe, 79mph operating speed.

Lamar voted to authorize $12,500 for another year as its share of funding. The council approved $12,500 last year and $10,000 two years ago for the first round of joint funding with a host of communities and organizations.  Other contributors include La Junta, Garden City and Dodge City, Kansas, BNSF Railway, Bent County, Las Animas County, Amtrak and the Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico Departments of Transportation.

Klein said, “We started this project needing $100M worth of rail infrastructure improvement and maintenance and we’re now down to $38M.  The needed funding was raised through the (TIGER) Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants.” He said Garden City administered the first grant for $22.5M followed the following year by La Junta on TIGER 7 for $24.5M and now, Lamar is the grant administrator for TIGER 8 for approximately $30 to $33M for upgrades to 46 miles of track stretching from the Colorado-Kansas line to Caddoa and a portion of track in Deerfield, KS.

Klein added that many other communities as well as elected officials from around the country are keeping an eye on how a grassroots coalition has been able to secure so much federal funding for rail improvements. “These people are stopping me to ask how have we been able to bring so many different parties together in this common goal, especially at a rural level,” he stated.  “We’ve improved greatly from our first efforts to get local funding several years ago, to a point where smaller communities with no direct buy-in are willing to help fund us.  Sometimes it’s as little as $1,000, but they know it will help maintain rail service in their general regions,” he added.  Later that evening in regular session, the council passed the resolution for another year of funding on a unanimous vote.

By Russ Baldwin

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