NM: Cabinet Secretary Joins Train Ride

July 12--Gov. Susana Martinez's administration is on board for a train ride after all.

Tom Church, state Cabinet secretary, will represent the administration and join Joe Boardman, Amtrak's president and chief executive officer, on a train ride through Northern New Mexico on Saturday that aims to spotlight the endangered Southwest Chief route.

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and local elected leaders from the train's route also plan to take the ride.

Martinez's spokesman said that until The New Mexican inquired about whether the administration would take part in the junket, the governor's office's only knowledge of it was a courtesy notice that it was taking place.

"Amtrak's claim that they invited or communicated with either DOT or the governor's office threw us all for a loop," said Martinez's spokesman Enrique Knell.

The Martinez administration has been reluctant to commit state funds to keeping the Southwest Chief on its current route. A proposed partnership between New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Amtrak and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railways, which owns the track on portions of the route in those states, carries a projected price tag of $200 million over 10 years. Each of the entities' anticipated shares would be $40 million.

Studies are pending in New Mexico to determine whether state funding of the project would be legal, considering a clause in the New Mexico Constitution that prohibits spending public funds on private business, and to assess the likely costs associated with maintaining track through the state.

In 2012, BNSF Railways notified Amtrak that it would cease maintaining the track between western Kansas and New Mexico on Jan. 1, 2016. If another source of money for that work isn't identified, Amtrak could reroute a stretch of the Southwest Chief, which travels daily between Chicago and Los Angeles.

Rerouting the line could eliminate stops in the New Mexico communities of Raton, Las Vegas, Lamy and Albuquerque.

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

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