The following was submitted to the Albuquerque Journal in response to Amtrak’s desire to saddle taxpayers in New Mexico for a significant portion of track upkeep costs.
The author, far from being anti-rail, is a member of the Northeast Kansas Garden Railway Society, Railway & Locomotive Historical Society, Oregon Rail Heritage Center, Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic RR, Colorado Railroad Museum, and Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad and Museum Foundation.
The citizens of New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas are being asked to subsidize both Amtrak and BNSF to upgrade and maintain the rail route from western Kansas, through southeast Colorado, to Albuquerque via Raton Pass to passenger train standards so that the Southwest Chief can continue to use the route. If the dollars are not forthcoming, Amtrak is threatening to cancel the Chief, or route it on the BNSF Transcon, bypassing western Kansas, Colorado, and northern New Mexico.
The only train currently using the Raton Pass route is the Chief, one east-bound and one west-bound a day. BNSF does not operate freight trains on the route. The Chief’s normal revenue consist is three coaches and two sleepers, able to accommodate on the order of 320 paying riders at any one time. Data in a 2012 Brookings report shows that the federal government subsidized Amtrak $187 for each Chief’s ticket sold. For the last 12 months, the Chief’s on-time performance has been 57.6%.
To maintain the track for this insignificant contribution to the transportation of people, the states are being asked to provide $100 million up front for capital improvements and $10 million annually for maintenance. States, being unable to print money, will have to put the bite on taxpayers to be so generous to Amtrak and BNSF. With state budgets already under great pressure, it is not in the citizens interest to hand out dollars for Amtrak’s benefit – it will have no discernable impact on the ability of citizens to travel and the return on investment, if any, will be many places to the right of the decimal point.
John D’Aloia Jr., Captain, USN (RET)