WICHITA - The city council is paying close attention to the recent announcement by the Kansas Department of Transportation regarding the future of the Southwest Chief Amtrak route from Newton through western Kansas.
The city council has always been supportive of the continuation of the passenger rail service provided by the Southwest Chief route. In recent years, the council also has been supportive of the evaluation of a potential Northern Flyer passenger rail route from Dallas to Kansas City via Wichita.
The KDOT announcement raises the possibility that the Southwest Chief service may be re-routed south from Newton through Wichita to link with existing east-west service through Oklahoma. In recent months, council-member Pete Meitzner has engaged the Wichita business community in a discussion about the merits of expanded passenger rail service. That discussion will continue, but the dynamics of discussion may change, depending on the fate of the current Southwest Chief service.
“It is imperative that the City of Wichita pay close attention to this rapidly-evolving issue,” said Meitzner. “The announcement regarding the future of the Southwest Chief service dictates that we continue this important community discussion and be alert to any challenges or opportunities that present themselves.”
BNSF railway has shifted its freight operations from the current Southwest Chief route, so it no longer has a business reason for maintaining the line for conditions suitable for passenger service. Without intervention, the Southwest Chief will likely be rerouted south at Newton, abandoning its current route through western Kansas, southeastern Colorado, and northern New Mexico.
Amtrak has proposed for Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico to provide $100 million for capital improvements during the next decade, and to be part of a five-way share of $10 million annually in costs starting in 2016. The states have told Amtrak they cannot afford those costs at this time. The states instead are seeking funding help from their U.S. Senators and Representatives in Congress.