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Inside the Beltway

Washington politics and government with a New Mexico flavor

Udall, Heinrich urge Amtrak upgrades

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Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich are asking a powerful Senate subcommittee chairman to back capital improvements to Amtrak’s long distance trains, including the Southwest Chief, which runs through New Mexico.

In a letter to the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, the senators urged investment in long distance trains, such as the Southwest Chief, as they consider funding for the U.S. Department of Transportation and other agencies that oversee Amtrak.

“Long distance service remains a critical link for small and rural communities,” the senators wrote. “However, despite their importance, these trains require significant capital investment that has gone unmet.”

The request comes as Amtrak is asking New Mexico and other western states to pony up $4 million per year for 10 years to help defray the cost of replacing aging tracks used by the Southwest Chief, which runs through Gallup, Albuquerque, Lamy, Las Vegas and Raton. Udall is a member of the Senate transportation appropriations subcommittee so he is a good spot to get the chairman’s attention. The Senate will soon begin deliberating appropriations bill for the 2015 fiscal year.

“As you know, Amtrak has announced a possible reroute of the Southwest Chief due to changing shared-use needs,” the senators’ letter said. “The potential reroute has raised serious concerns among the affected communities who depend on this service. While all stakeholders are working to find a responsible and reasonable solution that will preserve the current route, how to address the significant capital investment needs necessary to retain the current route remains unclear.

“While we recognize you are operating under very tight fiscal constraints, we hope you will consider the needs of our constituents in this year’s Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations bill,” the senators concluded. The letter was signed by Udall, Heinrich, and Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, also a Democrat.

The full text of the senators’ letter is here.

 

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