GARDEN CTY — U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., sat among representatives from Garden City and Dodge City at the Garden City Amtrak station on Friday morning, updating area officials and citizens about Congress' plan to maintain the Southwest Chief passenger rail line.
Moran's visit came a little over a week after the Senate passed a bill with an amendment dedicating $50 million to maintenance and safety improvements on the Southwest Chief line. The bill answers Amtrak's concerns about maintenance and safety costs along the line, a portion of which it uses exclusively, and acts as an alternative to the company's proposal to shut down passenger train travel in exchange for a bus service connecting Dodge City and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Amtrak previously had shown reluctance to contribute promised funds to a portion of an extended track replacement project running through Colfax County, New Mexico. The moment was notable to Moran.
"When we heard that we were successful with the Colfax County, New Mexico, (grant), following Kansas, Colorado and now New Mexico, and Amtrak announced that they weren't going to keep their commitment, a $3 million contribution, that certainly caught our attention, my attention. I just believe that when people say they are going to do something, they ought to do it," Moran said.
Moran broke down frustration over meetings with Amtrak, saying representatives from the company initially approached issues nonchalantly instead of collaborating with Congress to find a solution.
The proposed bus line, among other issues with the company, was a "rallying cry" to gather congressional and public support, Moran said. The Southwest Chief, which runs from Los Angeles to Chicago and has six stops in Kansas -- including Hutchinson, Dodge City and Garden City -- was valuable as a passenger and possible freight line and was worth investing in, he said.
"(The line's importance) was highlighted again today for me by people I talked to. Senior citizens, folks with disabilities -- this is a route, a method by which they can get places that in the absence of passenger rail service, it doesn't work," Moran said.
Moran said he thought the amendment would push Amtrak to pay its pledged $3 million to the Colfax County project, alleviate the need for the bus route plan, ensure the company did not abandon the rail line and provide funds for necessary track improvements. Because the amendment was linked to an appropriations bill, the provisions regarding the bus line and Amtrak's continued commitment to the line would only be effective during the fiscal year from which the bill appropriates funds, he said.
"That means that we still got a long-term issue with Amtrack," Moran said.
As the bill moves toward debate in committee, Moran urged citizens to reach out to their representatives and lobby for that language to remain in the amendment.
"Like all things in Washington D.C., you win a battle at a day or two, or in this case, a year at a time. We'll still, unfortunately, face this issue: What is the future of Amtrak, generally? And what does that mean for the future of the Southwest Chief?" Moran said.