TOPEKA (KSNT) – A way to travel through western Kansas is in jeopardy.
A degrading railroad could force AMTRAK to close its southwest Chief route that goes from Newton, Kansas through New Mexico.
Today a special whistle-stop tour made a layover in Topeka, to fight to keep that route operating.
By 2016 the sound for travel in western Kansas by rail could go silent.
The problem comes down to the condition of the rail, officials say it desperately needs to be replaced.
“That quite frankly,” says BNSF Railway Executive chairman Matthew Rose, “very old and will wear out for time and cause slow orders and delays to AMTRAK.”
Officials from AMTRAK, BNSF and the state boarded this train, stopping along cities on the Southwest Chief route.
They say they need an $80 million federal grant to keep the railway in shape.
“It’s important that we keep the train in Kansas, and we would prefer to leave it on the existing route that it is,” says Mike King, the state’s Secretary of Transportation and Director of the Kansas Turnpike. “It helps support our western Kansas communities.”
If not, the route could come to a halt in less than two years when BNSF and AMTRAK’s lease is set to expire.
“If the railroad kept downgrading,” Joe Boardman the CEO of AMTRAK tells Kansas First News, “it would get down to a speed of 40 miles an hour or even less. That wouldn’t even be acceptable to anybody that was operating on the train.”
The Secretary of Transportation says it would shut down passenger rail service to cities like Hutchinson, Dodge City and Garden City.
The state has authorized $3 million per year to keep the rail operating.
And while this tour heads west, officials say they’re pushing to keep this railway alive.”
“For us to be able to fund the improvements here and keep AMTRAK on this route. I think that’s really what the town’s wants,” says Rose.