Sunday, March 29, 2015

Despite GOP entrenchment Amtrak commits to future in New Mexico

Talk of direct passenger rail service between the Empire Builder at Shelby, Montana and the Southwest Chief at Pueblo, Colorado through Denver continues.
Amtrak will stick with its existing route of the Southwest Chief passenger train that makes stops in the New Mexico towns of Raton, Las Vegas, Lamy and Albuquerque, a company spokesman said in an interview. In all, about 126,000 boardings and departures by Southwest Chief riders are made each year in New Mexico, Amtrak says. The company says it employs 57 residents of New Mexico, and that their total wages were about $5.2 million last year. [excerpt, Santa Fe New Mexican]
The Santa Fe Southern Railroad owns the Lamy depot and the 22-mile spur between the historic community and Santa Fe. Calling itself Train X and after moving the company's rail assets to Santa Fe, Las Vegas Railway Express got some experience operating a 'party train' over the line. The company quit operations of 3½-hour round trips that began in July and abruptly ended at the end of September announcing sale of the rights to an undisclosed company.

The Rail Runner between south of ABQ and Santa Fe goes through several pueblos and is well-supported with stops in each community: it has brought at least access to prosperity in an historically poor state.

New Mexico's GOP representative voted with the state's Democrats for final passage of the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015. South Dakota's At-large Representative Republican Kristi Noem voted for an amendment that would have ended federal funding for Amtrak as did Montana's GOP At-large representative, Ryan Zinke, even as they voted to continue subsidized air service.

Recall that former GOP South Dakota governor, Mike Rounds, squandered Amtrak money on an airplane for his personal use now Pierre continues to suffer subsidized Essential Air Service woes and low boarding numbers even while the legislature is in session.

Noem voting against the final language and Zinke voting for it, a bill investing $8 billion in Amtrak's future was ultimately passed.

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