$16M grant awarded for Southwest Chief rail repairs

In a file photo from 2017, then Mayor Barth Hague rides the Amtrak from Wichita to Newton and holds a discussion about the possible expansion of a train line connecting the Heartland Flyer in Oklahoma City to the Southwest Chief in Newton. Amtrak and KDOT announced they were looking for an updated feasibility study into a connecting line, on Jan. 24 2018.

For Newton Now

The U.S. Department of Transportation this week awarded a $16 million TIGER grant for track replacement on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief route.

This grant will pay for 29 miles of track replacement in Colorado and various track replacement and other improvements in New Mexico. The local match is $9.16 million for the $16 million grant.

In October 2017, the Newton City Commission approved a $12,500 contribution to the grant matching funds. Hutchinson, Dodge City and Garden City also contributed, and the Kansas Department of Transportation pledged $1 million.

City Commissioner Barth Hague, who represents the City on passenger rail issues, acknowledged the importance of the project to Newton’s Amtrak service.

“Ongoing improvement of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief line serves to solidify the route’s viability and ridership growth,” Hague said. “That helps Newton, as the highest volume station in Kansas. It also supports our efforts to bring the Heartland Flyer train from Fort Worth to Newton.”

This grant builds upon two previous $28 million TIGER grant projects that replaced large sections of the Southwest Chief rail line. With completion of this project, there will be only 27 miles still needing replacement.

The Southwest Chief runs southwest from Chicago to Kansas City to Newton, then west through western Kansas to La Junta, Colorado; and Raton, New Mexico; before proceeding to Los Angeles. Track conditions between Newton and Raton had deteriorated in the past decade, and Amtrak said in 2010 that if significant improvements were not made to the tracks, it would divert the Southwest Chief to run south from Newton, bypassing western Kansas and Colorado.