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New Mexico communities won’t lose train services

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The westbound Southwest Chief heads out of Lamy. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico communities served by the Southwest Chief are no longer in immediate danger of losing train service, even though plans for maintaining the tracks remain uncertain, an Amtrak spokesman said Monday.

“There are no immediate plans that would result in a cutoff of service to the existing stops,” said Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman in Chicago.

The Southwest Chief operates a daily passenger service between Los Angeles and Chicago, with New Mexico stops in Gallup, Albuquerque, Lamy, Las Vegas and Raton.

“We made it clear we don’t want to change the route,” Magliari said. “The (Southwest) Chief is on the right route.”

The New Mexico Department of Transportation is seeking a federal grant to help pay for track maintenance in New Mexico, the agency said Monday in a written statement.

An Amtrak official told New Mexico lawmakers in November that the nationwide passenger rail system might reroute the Southwest Chief to avoid northern New Mexico and Colorado if the states didn’t contribute money for track maintenance.

Amtrak was considering an alternative route that would have passed through Clovis, Texas and Oklahoma, lawmakers were told.

In recent months, officials in Kansas and Colorado committed $9.3 million to secure a federal matching grant of $12.5 million for track maintenance in those states.

The funding will pay for track repairs along the most deteriorated portion of track from Newton, Kan., to La Junta, Colo., which receives daily freight traffic, Magliari said.

But to date, plans for maintaining tracks in New Mexico remain uncertain, he said.

“There is not yet a plan that is solid for upkeep of the tracks from Colorado into New Mexico down to Albuquerque,” Magliari said. “We are working on it. We are making progress.”

The DOT said it is working with the Southwest Chief Coalition, which includes cities and counties in northern New Mexico, to develop a grant application to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

BNSF Railway, which owns the track, is expected next month to issue an updated cost estimate for track maintenance, the DOT statement said.

New Mexico has the advantage that the Southwest Chief alignment here does not carry freight traffic, Magliari said.

“It needs to be stabilized and improved, but it is not wearing out the way the track was in Kansas and Colorado,” he said.

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