June 08, 2018

Udall Advances Amendment to Ensure Southwest Chief Has Access to Federal Funding

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Tom Udall, senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced that the committee has advanced his bipartisan amendment to help ensure Amtrak’s Southwest Chief can continue to access federal funding for critical repair work. The Southwest Chief runs from Chicago to Los Angeles, and stops in several New Mexico communities, including Raton, Las Vegas, Lamy, Albuquerque, and Gallup.

In March, members of the New Mexico delegation announced that the Department of Transportation (DOT) had awarded New Mexico’s Colfax County a $16 million grant under the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program to replace segments of the aging rail line on which the Southwest Chief operates. Under a longstanding public-private partnership, Amtrak contributes funds to these TIGER IX grants. However, Amtrak has threatened to withhold and add conditions to its contribution to Colfax County’s TIGER IX grant, endangering critical funds needed for communities to repair the Southwest Chief Route.

Udall, along with Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), successfully included language during the committee’s consideration of the FY2019 Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations bill to strongly encourage Amtrak to consult with stakeholders before adding conditions to any grant funds.

“The Southwest Chief is an engine of economic growth in New Mexico that connects rural communities from Raton to Gallup,” Udall said. “I was pleased when the Southwest Chief received its latest TIGER grant – federal funding that has been a big help in making badly-needed improvements to ensure a strong and stable future for the Southwest Chief in New Mexico. But Amtrak is threatening to pull out the rug from the New Mexico communities that are undertaking these critical repairs. That’s why I fought to ensure New Mexico has access to the funding we need and continues to have a say as we work to keep the Southwest Chief chugging long into the future. As a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I’ll keep fighting for investments in rural infrastructure that benefit the economy and link communities across our state."

Udall joined a bipartisan, bicameral letter led by U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich raising concerns over Amtrak’s threats to withhold funding for the Southwest Chief Route. Heinrich welcomed today’s committee action: “The Southwest Chief isn't just a railroad route in New Mexico, it connects communities like Gallup and Las Vegas to the rest of the nation and boosts the local economy. Amtrak’s decision to potentially withhold millions in matching funding for Colfax County causes tremendous uncertainty to the future of the line. I will continue fighting to ensure Amtrak upholds its financial commitment to New Mexico to keep the Southwest Chief on track and continue service of this route,” said Heinrich.

The text of Udall’s amendment can be found below [in bold].

Improving Communication with Stakeholders. — The Committee applauds Amtrak’s efforts to make itself financially more sustainable through a business-like approach to its operations. However, the Committee is concerned that the Corporation is failing to communicate adequately with the public prior to making service changes that have significant impacts on its ridership and the communities it serves. This past year, Amtrak made a series of changes to longstanding policies governing charter trains, special trains and private cars. Many of these changes were justified adjustments to services that were costly or interfered with the operation of Amtrak’s regularly scheduled passenger trains. However, the Committee is concerned that Amtrak unveiled these decisions without giving members of the public time to react or register their opinions. The Committee encourages Amtrak to improve public outreach and offer its stakeholders an opportunity to comment on policies that affect services prior to finalizing any such decisions. This consultation should include communication prior to changing previous commitments made by Amtrak regarding conditions of acceptance of federal grant funding.

National Network Services. — Long-distance routes provide much needed transportation access for 4.7 million riders in 325 communities in 40 States. Providing diversified transportation options is important to the growth of the Nation’s economy, especially in rural areas where mobility options are limited. Equally important are routes that provide service to rural areas from urban areas along the Northeast Corridor. The budget request includes a proposal to require States to contribute substantially more funding for service on the National Network, which would significantly curtail the Federal Government’s longstanding role in providing rail service to the vast majority of States served by Amtrak. The administration’s request would shift significant shared and system-related costs to the NEC and State-supported routes. The Committee recommendation rejects this proposal and includes sufficient funding for Amtrak to maintain rail service and connectivity on the National Network.