CO: Train Proposal Gathers Steam

Jan. 26--The fight to keep the Southwest Chief Amtrak train route alive gained some steam this week with a new bill introduced by Rep. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo.

Garcia introduced legislation to create a financing authority to oversee Colorado's portion of the route.

The bill was celebrated Saturday near the train tracks behind the Pueblo Union Depot before a spirited crowd of about 100 politicians, Puebloans and people from around the region.

"We need this train . . . It's going to be a challenge and we've got some work ahead of us," Garcia said, speaking from the top side of a historical locomotive behind the depot.

Garcia said 28 legislators have cosponsored his bill.

Amtrak passenger train running between Chicago and Los Angeles, with stops in Lamar, La Junta and Trinidad. Garcia's bill calls for the route to add a stop in Pueblo as well.

Amtrak officials are considering moving the route further south in two years, so the Chief would run through Wichita, Kan., and Amarillo, Texas -- cutting out Colorado altogether.

Amtrak officials have said the main reason they would cut the route is because of the lack of ridership, which is about 90,000 riders annually.

Garcia said adding a stop in Pueblo would increase ridership because of more people living here.

State Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, also is sponsoring the bill.

"I'll tell you what, I am ready for Pueblo to be on the Amtrak map. We have an opportunity to set this right," Crowder said, standing next to Garcia.

"We cannot allow this to be taken out of Southeastern Colorado."

Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace said the economic impact of the route and the possible stop in Pueblo would be good for the region.

"We have the opportunity on the steel-making side and for the (EVRAZ Pueblo) steel mill, because if we have over 200 miles of rail that need to be replaced, we have a steel mill here in Pueblo," Pace said.

"We can create a lot of jobs here."

Pace said professors at Colorado State University- Pueblo are currently conducting an economic impact study of both keeping the line and losing it. The study should be finished next week, Pace said.

Pace gave out Gov. John Hickenlooper's phone number, urging people to call him about the bill and ask for his support.

Copyright 2014 - The Pueblo Chieftain, Colo.