NM: Colorado Gov. Signs Measure Aimed to Save Chief Route

May 15--Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed legislation into law Wednesday that establishes a commission aimed at keeping Amtrak's Southwest Chief passenger line on its current route through Northern New Mexico and parts of Kansas and Colorado.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, owner of the track along that stretch, will stop paying for maintenance on the line in January 2016, potentially forcing Amtrak to reroute the historic Southwest Chief. An estimated $200 million over the next decade is needed to keep the Southwest Chief from bypassing current stops, including Lamy, Las Vegas and Raton in New Mexico.

Communities in Kansas and Colorado, along with BNSF and Amtrak, are pursuing federal grants to advance the project. Meanwhile, New Mexico is conducting an economic and legal study before committing to any funding partnerships.

"Is Kansas is going to participate? Is New Mexico going to participate? I think our desire is to demonstrate that we're willing to put some money on the table and see if they follow up, if they're willing to join forces," Hickenlooper said following a bill signing Wednesday in Pueblo, Colo. "If they don't, it makes it much, much more difficult."

To date, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has said the federal government, which traditionally has funded Amtrak, is responsible for the Southwest Chief.

Said Hickenlooper, "At a certain point in the next year or two, we're going to have to step up and start writing some big checks, and we need our neighbor states to support us."

He chairs the Western Governors' Association. He said he plans to "corner" Martinez and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to discuss the Southwest Chief during a scheduled meeting of the group next month in Colorado.

Contact Patrick Malone at 986-3017 or pmalone@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter @pmalonenm.

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