A decade-old idea that could connect Lubbock to passenger rail service is finding new life, thanks to a possible change in a major Amtrak route through the Panhandle.
Amtrak, faced with problems on older sections of track between Newton, Kan., and Albuquerque, N.M., and three states that appear reluctant to share the $100 million cost of improvements, has said it may move the Southwest Chief Chicago-to-Los Angeles route.
According to published accounts, Amtrak says it can't help financially and wants a decision from the three states by sometime next year on committing to the $100 million over 10 years, plus $10 million annually for continuing maintenance.
The Southwest Chief now runs west across most of southern Kansas, part of southeastern Colorado and enters New Mexico paralleling Interstate 25 over Raton Pass south of Denver.
But some stretches of track are old, forcing the train -- which covers parts of the 2,265-mile route at 90 mph -- to slow to 30 mph
If Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico can't, or won't, find the money for the improvements, Amtrak has said one option would be to move the Southwest Chief to BNSF's Railways' transcontinental line that passes through Amarillo.
That path would bring the train south through Wichita, Kan., to Amarillo, then west to Clovis, N.M., before heading on to Albuquerque
And that, says local rail enthusiast George Bradley, could open the door for some passenger rail connection in Lubbock.
Bradley said that could mean reviving the Caprock Express idea -- service between Denver and Fort Worth routed through Lubbock, Amarillo and Abilene.
Or it could mean something as simple as an Amtrak Thruway bus connection from Lubbock to Amarillo.
Bradley, a local board member of the Texas Association of Rail Passengers, said he's just starting to put a team together so the region is ready to act if Amtrak does bring the Southwest Chief to Amarillo.
Acting, he said, means getting the Texas Department of Transportation connected with the situation and bringing West Texas back into the state's passenger rail plans.
A review of the state's most recent rail plan shows no discussion of passenger train service in West Texas.
Bradley has the backing of association President Henry Wulff.
Wulff said: "If Amtrak initiates the change, a Caprock Express train between the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and Denver would greatly increase ridership numbers on the Southwest Chief."
Wulff said the move could connect cities to the train, and expand opportunities for bus-train connections throughout West Texas.
Because the issue has only surfaced recently, Wulff said, the association hasn't made passenger rail service in West Texas a talking priority with lawmakers and state officials in Austin.
Bradley said he's beginning to work with contacts in both Lubbock and Amarillo to assemble a coalition.
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