U.S. Sen. Tom Udall
WASHINGTON, D.C. ― During a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) secured a commitment from top Amtrak official and Chief Operating Officer Scot Naparstek to stop plans to turn a segment of the Southwest Chief rail line from Dodge City, Kansas to Albuquerque, New Mexico into a bus route during Fiscal Year 2019.
Before this public commitment, the Southwest Chief route, which serves several New Mexico communities, faced an uncertain future after Amtrak threatened to withhold millions of dollars in funding necessary to maintaining long-distance passenger rail line service.
While questioning Naparstek about Amtrak’s proposed shift to buses, Udall asked: “In previous hearings, Amtrak has stated that ‘Amtrak’s goal is to continue to operate all of our services for all of our routes come January 1, 2019.’ I’d like you to clarify if that means continuing rail service — will Amtrak commit publicly to stop pursuing the proposal of replacing the train with buses for the Southwest Chief for fiscal year 2019?”
In response, Naparstek committed to halt Amtrak’s proposal to replace a large portion of the Southwest Chief line with bus service between Dodge City, Kansas and Albuquerque, New Mexico for Fiscal Year 2019, saying, “We plan on running the Southwest Chief as-is through fiscal year 2019.”
Udall also discussed the importance of consulting with stakeholders to make improvements to the aging rail line, saying, “I reiterate the need for Amtrak to work with the communities impacted to create a real plan for the future of the Southwest Chief.”
Udall has long advocated for investment in rural infrastructure like the Southwest Chief line, which helps boost local economies and connect rural communities in New Mexico, like Gallup and Las Vegas, to the rest of the nation. He previously helped lead bipartisan efforts, along with Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), in the Senate to secure an additional $50 million in federal funding to help maintain Amtrak’s train services in the 2019 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) appropriations bill.
The Southwest Chief runs daily between Chicago and Los Angeles, connecting towns and cities across the western United States and providing train and long-distance passenger service, particularly through rural areas. In New Mexico, the Southwest Chief serves several communities, including Raton, Las Vegas, Lamy, Albuquerque, and Gallup.