Washington, D.C. – Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet this week was honored by the Rail Passengers Association with the Golden Spike Award for his work to preserve the Southwest Chief train route. For several years, Bennet has worked with a coalition of local community leaders, businesses, and six senators from Colorado, Kansas, and New Mexico to secure federal funding and receive a commitment from Amtrak to match grant funding and keep the line running. A Rail Passengers Association study found that the senators’ actions preserve $180 million in economic activity across the three states each year.
“At our first Southwest Chief meeting years ago in La Junta, Colorado, we joined a coalition of community leaders and pledged to find the funding to keep the line running,” Bennet said. “Amtrak's decision to uphold its commitment to match the TIGER grant is because of the dedication of these leaders and validates the importance of the Southwest Chief. This is a hard-fought win for rural communities whose economies rely on this route, and we’ll continue working to make the investments in rural infrastructure that our kids and grandkids deserve.”
In February 2019, Congress passed and the president signed the FY2019 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related (THUD) Appropriations Act, which set aside $50 million of Amtrak’s appropriations for long-term maintenance and safety improvements on lines like the Southwest Chief. Amtrak is using $3 million of these funds to match a $16 million grant successfully sought by Colorado, Kansas, and New Mexico. This grant and matching funds from the partners will result in an investment of more than $26 million in the Southwest Chief. The legislation also prohibits Amtrak from replacing long-distance train service with buses.
The Southwest Chief runs daily between Chicago and Los Angeles and connects towns and cities in Colorado, Kansas, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, and provides passenger train and long-distance passenger service, particularly through rural communities.
Timeline of the Senators’ Work on the Southwest Chief:
- In February 2019, Congress passed and the president signed the FY2019 THUD Appropriations Act, which provides $50 million of Amtrak’s appropriations for long-term maintenance and safety improvements along the Southwest Chief route.
- On August 1, 2018, the Senate approved the senators’ amendment to maintain Southwest Chief train services.
- On July 31, 2018, the senators introduced an amendment advocating for the Southwest Chief.
- On July 26, 2018, the senators sent a letter to Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson urging him to uphold Amtrak’s side of a longstanding public-private partnership to continue operating the Southwest Chief passenger train and long-distance passenger service.
- On July 25, 2018, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a Sense of the Congress measure to affirm support for the long-distance rail service.
- In June 2018, the senators met with Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson to discuss solutions for the Southwest Chief and to encourage more transparency in Amtrak’s decision-making.
- On May 31, 2018, the senators sent a bipartisan, multi-state letter condemning Amtrak’s decision not to match TIGER Grant funds.
- In 2015 and 2016, Bennet secured TIGER Grant funds for the line in Colorado and Kansas.