Rocking and Rolling Across New Mexico.

The Southwest Chief, as most of you probably know, could be rerouted or even discontinued because there are more than 600 miles of track in parts of Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico that need repairing and upgrading. And there’s no doubt that those repairs are needed: having done it just a few days ago, I can tell you that the ride is frequently rather slow and quite rocky in some of those areas.
The problem, of course, is that no one wants to pay for the upgrading that needs to be done. BNSF no longer runs a lot of freight over that route and they don’t care if it can only move at 35 or 40 mph. Amtrak hasn’t got the money, of course, although they have nevertheless committed to something like $20 million over ten years. And the feds have essentially turned responsibility for subsidizing long-distance routes over to the states.

So far, it appears that Kansas and Colorado may come up with their shares. However, the Republican governor of New Mexico, Susana Martinez, doesn’t want to play with the big kids because, she says, it ought to be the feds responsibility. But unless there is a change of stone-heart on the part of Republicans in the U.S. House, that ain’t gonna happen. Back to the states goes the hot potato. 

But that would mean the governors of Kansas and Colorado would nave to go to their legislatures and ask for additional funds to cover New Mexico’s share of what it’ll take to save the Chief?

Do you see that happening? Neither can I.

And there you have what is probably the biggest flaw (among several) in the idea that the states will all agree to pick up the cost of funding most or even just a substantial portion of our national passenger rail system. The simple fact is, the primary responsibility for funding the long-distance trains necessarily, as a purely practical matter, has to fall to the federal government.