In 2017, the Colorado General Assembly created the Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission to pursue building a high-speed commuter rail line that serves the Front Range of Colorado. A comfortable, wi-fi connected, mass-transit option that is accessible and affordable may be the solution that makes this vision a reality. [Jared Polis for Governor]After helping to bring $30 million for rail improvements to the state Representative-now-Governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham will have a portion of a $2 billion surplus to develop Positive Train Control for the New Mexico Rail Runner.
This critical infrastructure grant will support NMRX ‘s efforts to continue providing safe and reliable service to New Mexicans and tourists who depend on it every single day. I remain committed to revitalizing our transportation and infrastructure systems, securing funding for our state’s long-term needs, and helping our economy grow. [press release, Rep. Lujan Grisham]Now, growth on the Front Range is driving planners to pick up the pace on passenger rail.
According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, there have been many ideas to connect Cheyenne all the way down to Albuquerque, New Mexico with a commuter rail line. But getting the public, local and state governments all on the same page with the details has proved difficult. In December, the commission also requested nearly $9 million dollars from the state to conduct a 2-year public engagement campaign on the premise of a Front Range passenger rail along I-25. It was granted that money in this year’s Senate Bill 1, a large transportation funding measure. [KUNC]The State of New Mexico bought the track bed that Amtrak's Southwest Chief uses from just north of Lamy to Behlen south of Albuquerque from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway when the Rail Runner was built. BNSF owns virtually all the rail rights of way in New Mexico.
Amtrak is the sole user of the BNSF track between Jansen, Colo., near Trinidad, and the junction with the Rail Runner Express commuter train’s rail line south of Santa Fe, and is entirely responsible for capital and maintenance costs for that stretch of track. The National Association of Railroad Passengers is also concerned. A spokesman for the group that advocates for train and rail transit passengers said discontinuing the middle portion of the Southwest Chief route could be a “canary in the coal mine” for other routes. [Albuquerque Journal]BNSF Railway and Amtrak both bear the costs of maintaining and improving the half mile long rail tunnel at almost 7600 feet near the top of Raton Pass. Why not sell the remaining portion north of Lamy to the border to the State of New Mexico and the remaining right of way to Jansen to the State of Colorado in a deal letting Amtrak reroute the Southwest Chief through Amarillo, Texas to Behlen like it wants to?
Equip the Rail Runner to connect with Amtrak farther south in New Mexico and to El Paso, create routes over the Santa Fe Southern Railway line from Santa Fe through Lamy and from Albuquerque serving other northern New Mexico communities. Connect with a Front Range carrier at Trinidad or go into downtown Denver, meet the California Zephyr, maybe even into Cheyenne, Wyoming. Legal cannabis for New Mexico's adults could help foot the bill for Positive Train Control.
Meanwhile the Trump Organization and the Koch Brothers are pledging to kill passenger rail service while vehicle traffic between the Black Hills, Cheyenne and Denver continues to increase just like it is between Denver, Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
I get the idea of a future I-25E but now is the time to connect the Southwest Chief to the Empire Builder at Shelby, Montana through Denver, too.