The SW Chief Saga (Continued).
To recap: Amtrak’s Southwest Chief runs once a day in each direction between Los Angeles and Chicago. More of less in the middle of it’s route, the train passes over a stretch of track that runs for several hundred miles through parts of Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico. That section of track, which belongs to BNSF, the freight railroad, needs to be repaired and upgraded at considerable cost … cost that no one party is willing or able to pay.
So a kind of task force was formed and after two years of haggling, commitments were made by all of the parties, each kicking in their share of the money needed to upgrade the track.
But the deal blew up when Amtrak, under its new president, Richard Anderson, quite unexpectedly said Amtrak wasn’t going to honor the commitment that the previous Amtrak bosses had made.
Amtrak did propose an alternate plan, but it involved taking people off the train, loading them onto buses and driving them around the poor track some 500 miles where another train would be waiting to continue on.
Clearly it was a terrible idea. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist, or even a former airline executive, to know that a schedule like that would have a devastating impact on the Chief’s ridership. Anderson’s strategy was obvious and clumsy, but it had unintended consequences: it generated a small avalanche of emails and phone calls to Congressional offices from RPA members, especially those from states through which the Chief passes.
And the politicians finally started paying attention. Most recently, Kansas senator Jerry Moran, a Republican, has filed an amendment to the 2018 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Act (THUD) that would provide $2.5 billion to Amtrak, but mandating that the fund be spent on that stretch of track and that Amtrak continue to operate the Southwest Chief.
Isn’t it amazing how these politicians are nowhere to be found when Amtrak as an entire system is slowly being starved to death … but they turn into wounded tigers when “their” train is threatened!
Well, whatever works.
Lets be clear eyed here and note that the states that had agreed to their contributions were not entirely willing to commit to the long term support needed for a rail route that exists solely to support a single passenger train. ±In this case, the response from Amtrak was not the usual ”Ooooh, the horror” and hand wringing but a serious threat to deal with the recalcitrance. Serious threats help focus people wonderfully sometimes.
“All politics, ultimately is local.” This well known phrase still applies. And a phrase that RPA was successful in using. But we still have more to do.
Like a bunch of unruly or undisciplined kids, the upper echelon of Amtrak management seems to want to run their own show. It could be, at least in part due to pandering to Northeast corridor power-players. From all indications they do not like it when their plan is interfered with. Peter LeCody’s comments (RPA) have made it clear how they behave in meetings that go counter to their will – described as “shouting matches”. I think the only thing that will de-rail their agenda (and more importantly de-rail THEM) is for Congress to tell them the way it’s going to be. When exposed to bright light they will scramble. Until then more devious and subtle acts are likely to be displayed. Their motives surely appear counter to what Amtrak was intended to be.