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N.M. lawmakers back current Amtrak route

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A pair of New Mexico legislators have introduced memorials in the current legislative session, calling on the governor and the state’s congressional delegation to support the “continued viability” of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief passenger train service that passes through Raton and other northeast New Mexico communities twice a day, The Raton Range reported.

Rep. Brian Egolf and Sen. Peter Wirth, both Santa Fe Democrats, have asked in their memorials that the state’s leaders push for federal funding to improve the railroad tracks over which the Southwest Chief travels through Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico, The Range said.

The memorials say Congress, which created Amtrak in 1970, “has not provided for a permanent funding stream to cover the cost of Amtrak’s infrastructure needs” and that Amtrak’s inability to secure adequate funding threatens the viability of the current route from Raton to Albuquerque, the paper reported.

Amtrak has said that it prefers to keep the Southwest Chief on its current route, but if the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway tracks it uses are not upgraded by the time its agreement with BNSF expires in 2016, the Southwest Chief may have to be moved south through Oklahoma and Texas, The Range said.

Amtrak has asked state governments in New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas for help, but transportation officials in each state have said their states don’t have the money needed to upgrade the tracks, according to the paper.

The memorials note that the Southwest Chief currently “provides interstate transportation for New Mexico residents and travelers visiting New Mexico,” including about 4,400 Boy Scouts who ride the train to Raton each year in order to reach Philmont Scout Ranch near Cimarron, The Range said.

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