U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran delayed action on confirmation of three nominees to Amtrak's board of directors to encourage the company to make a commitment to maintaining operation of passenger rail service on the Southwest Chief's route through rural communities in Kansas.
Amtrak executives have yet to offer assurances of another year of operation for Southwest Chief, which runs daily from Chicago to Los Angeles and makes stops in Lawrence, Topeka, Newton, Hutchinson, Dodge City and Garden City.
Richard Anderson, Amtrak's president, agreed to a May 22 with Moran and other senators to discuss future of the rail line.
"As the divide between urban communities and rural communities in America continues to expand, passenger rail services, like the Southwest Chief, are necessary in connecting Kansans to the rest of the country," said Moran, a Kansas Republican.
"I am continuing to seek assurances from Amtrak that it will uphold its commitment to repair, improve and continue the Southwest Chief rail line," he said.
Moran's hold on Amtrak's nominees to the board of directors includes Rick Dearborn, of Oklahoma, Joseph R. Gruters, of Florida, and Leon Westmoreland, of Georgia.
In the current federal budget, Moran helped secure a $50 million appropriation to support operation of Southwest Chief through September. Discussions about extending that grant for are ongoing in Congress, creating a fresh opportunity to discuss the line's future.
Amtrak officials suggested in the past rail service from Dodge City to Albuquerque could be handled with buses.
Moran signed a letter requesting information from Amtrak officials about the route. It was endorsed by Republican U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Democratic U.S. Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.
"We are writing in strong support of Amtrak’s national network, including the long-distance and state-supported routes," the coalition of senators said. "We seek your firm commitment that Amtrak will abide by its statutory purpose — maintaining a truly national network for our rail system."
The group of senators said Amtrak was more than a collection of individual train routes, because it was binding the country together and linked rural communities to major markets and economic opportunities.
Ridership information for 2018 hasn't been published, but more than 52,000 passengers reportedly boarded Southwest Chief in Kansas during 2017. That was an increase of 2,700 from the previous year on the route.