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Amtrak awarded $5.6 million grant for track improvements

Amtrak’s Southwest Chief pulls out of the Lamy train station headed westbound in 2018. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The Federal Railroad Administration has awarded Amtrak a $5.6 million grant for track and infrastructure improvements between Trinidad, Colorado, and Lamy.

Combined with nearly $5 million in federal funding Amtrak has set aside, and another $1 million from the state Department of Transportation, Amtrak says a total of $11.5 million will be invested in the stretch of track utilized by the Southwest Chief passenger train. The Southwest Chief makes daily trips in each direction with stops in Raton, Las Vegas, Lamy, Albuquerque and Gallup along a 2,265-mile route between Chicago and Los Angeles.

“A good amount of the money will be used for stabilization and protection up at (Raton Pass) to protect against falling rock,” said Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman. “We also believe there will be an enhanced level of safety.”

The work includes laying ties along a 31-mile stretch of track south of Raton Pass and the replacement of 12 miles of bolted rail with welded rail between Lamy and Madrid. Funding will also be used on rockfall prevention at Raton Pass, the steepest rail route in the contiguous United States, and Glorieta Pass.

“Our past and current investments, from Kansas through Colorado and New Mexico, demonstrate our commitment to the Chief route and also preserve this segment for eventual inclusion in a north-south connection along the Front Range between Denver and Albuquerque, via Colorado Springs and Pueblo,” Bill Flynn, Amtrak’s president and CEO, said in a news release.

Passengers unload from Amtrak’s eastbound Southwest Chief at the Lamy train station. Amtrak has been awarded $5.6 million for track and safety improvements between Trinidad, Colorado, and Lamy. ( Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Flynn also gave credit to the respective Congressional delegations for pushing the effort. U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) said improving infrastructure is critical to New Mexico’s economic development efforts and important to communities along the railway.

“Rail lines like the Southwest Chief link communities across our state and nation,” he said.

The work is scheduled to begin in 2021 and be completed in 2022. The BNSF Railway and the Rio Metro Transportation District will perform much of the work in New Mexico.

Rio Metro, which operates the Rail Runner Express commuter train, will do work on 22-miles of track between Lamy and Madrid, according to Robert Gonzales, and assistant director for Rio Metro’s rail operations.

“We’ll be upgrading the signal system, replacing rail and installing slide fences to prevent rock slides,” he said.

Gonzales added that Rio Metro this week completed installing a Positive Train Control system, a safety system meant to prevent trains from derailing or crashing into each other, along the 96-mile Rail Runner Express route.

Rio Metro was required to install the safety equipment before the end of the year, or risk losing federal funding.

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