Amtrak CEO: Save the Southwest Chief

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – It could be a huge blow for the metro – talks about badly needed track repairs for Amtrak could mean the money-making train could skip Albuquerque altogether.

In an attempt to save that route, the president and CEO of Amtrak took a train ride through New Mexico on Saturday to talk to city officials about funding.

“We really see an opportunity here to work with New Mexico,” Joe Beardman, CEO of Amtrak said.

Boardman also says he wants to see the “Southwest Chief” stay on its current route. About 350,000 people take Amtrak’s Southwest Chief route every year.

It travels from Chicago to Los Angeles, stopping in Raton, Las Vegas, Lamy and Albuquerque along the way. But that leg of the route is now in jeopardy because the tracks need a lot of work.

The push to save the “Southwest Chief” and its current route is heating up.

As Beardman pulled into Lamy, he was greeted by a crowd of supporters, including long-time resident Kathy Pilknock.

“It’s vital to all of people,” Pilknock said. “It’s a part of our community, it’s a part of our heritage and we hope it is for the future.”

The Southwest Chief Coalition says New Mexico will have to foot $4 million a year for the next 10 years to make repairs to track and signals to keep the Amtrak passenger train moving.

Colorado and Kansas, along with Amtrak and BNSF also have to pitch in funds. The total cost is roughly $100 million.

Historians say losing the service would be even more costly – to the tune of $70 million a year and a loss more than 350 jobs.

Residents of Lamy say the only reason there here is because of the railroad.

Down south, though, one county wants change.

The Valencia County Commission voted unanimously earlier this month to ask Amtrak to look at a southern route. That would cut off all of northern New Mexico and bring in Amtrak from Amarillo through Clovis and to Belen.

County Manager Jeff Condrey explains.

“This is a federal government problem,” Condrey said. “It isn’t a state problem and this route shouldn’t be subsidized by the state taxpayers.”

Boardman was scheduled to meet with Albuquerque Mayor R.J. Berry on Sunday morning.

He’s hoping to get some funding for repair work as early as this fall. He says he wants to see the Southwest Chief keep its current route.

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