Southwest Chief Bustitution: Chairman LeCody's take

In an unprecedented rebuff undoing years of work, Amtrak refused to live up to its prior agreement with Colorado, New Mexico,and BNSF Railway to contribute a third of the cost of the Raton Pass section of the Southwest Chief route. The Rail Passengers Association opposes therecently proposed bus bridge and has already begun a three-pronged action plan to ensure that train service continues along the ENTIRE route.

1. Rail Passengers staff is already working with Congressional delegations in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico and is in progress to add every other state along the Southwest Chief route. A meeting with six Senators and Amtrak's Anderson and Gardner last week turned into a shouting match. You really don't want to get into a pissing contest with a Senator that controls your funding or can hold up appointments to the Amtrak board. Legislators are upset and are on our side on this issue. This issue will be won on Capitol Hill by our elected officials.

2. Rail Passengers staff has already started a coalition campaign of Council members and advocacy organizations along the Southwest Chief route to work together with one voice. RPA will be adding resources to this campaign. You remember how Rally4Trains was successful? Stand by for Rally re-deux.

3. Rail Passengers staff has already started a corridor-wide campaign to activate mayors, local officials, and citizens in defense of this rail service.

“The failure to involve key stakeholders in developing alternatives to bus substitution is a failure on the part of Amtrak to meet its obligations to the taxpayer,” said Jim Mathews, President & CEO of RPA. “It also demonstrates a lack of understanding of the Congressional mandate to run a national railroad by its Chief Executive Officer, Richard Anderson. Our association is committed to ensuring this proposal does not become reality.” Hotline #1,072 June 22, 2018.

https://www.railpassengers.org/happening-now/news/hotline/hotline-1-073/

Here's my take and my views on the Southwest Chief issue and this does not reflect the view of staff or other board members...

Amtrak has a government mandate to run a national passenger rail network and not look for excuses to cut back on service for our members and the public. The Federal Railroad Administration decided that this BNSF rail line used by only two Amtrak trains a day (Southwest Chief) does not require Positive Train Control. Why doesn't Amtrak management follow FRA policy?

Taking passengers off a train and busing them to another train hundreds of miles away is NOT safe. Don't take my word for it. (Trains safer than cars, buses for passengers, experts say (Bart Jansen, USA Today, April 4, 2016.) Busing passengers will dramatically cut revenue and ridership. This has happened in the past and is not a formula for success. It is a formula to start to decimate the national passenger rail network and must be stopped.

Amtrak management previously agreed to work with local, state and federal agencies to share part of the maintenance expenses on this line. Reneging on the agreement means Amtrak is a partner not to be trusted. This is very poor policy.

We all remember how what I call the "Mica-Burger" rantings that resulted in a mandate for Amtrak to cut food losses, don't we? I am very uncomfortable with Congress micro-managing Amtrak and telling them to run the Southwest Chief but if that's what it takes for management to understand we want daily national service, better service, newer and better trains than so be it. Amtrak management is not on the "right track" with their Southwest Chief initiatives.

-Peter LeCody
Chairman, Rail Passengers Board of Directors

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