Rail Passenger's Association is circulating a petition to save the Southwest Chief. As most of you know, Amtrak’s management has been shopping a plan to divide the Chief into three separate sections: A train from Chicago to either Dodge City or La Junta, a bus bridge between Dodge City or La Junta and Albuquerque, and another train between Albuquerque and Los Angeles. Amtrak’s management has also reneged on a deal where they would contribute to third TIGER grant that would improve the tracks between La Junta and Lamy. Together, these actions imply that they want to dismantle the National System. At the very least, sleeping car passengers on this train would be significantly less causing a huge impact on revenues for the Train.
So how does the loss of a train between Chicago and Los Angeles affect us in New England. First, many of us including myself, have taken that train. I have even ridden the entire route from Chicago to Los Angeles three times, and done partial trips on multiple occasions. Second, if this train goes away, a significant portion of its fixed costs get assigned to other trains. Also ridership on connecting trains would be hurt. Third, this could be the prelude to eliminating more and possibly most of the few long distance trains we have left.
But beyond the effect this has on the rest of the nation, the loss of this train and possibly others will gravely affect the operations of the NEC. As more of Amtrak’s fixed costs are assigned to the NEC, then the profitability of the corridor is eroded. A significant part of our travels on the NEC is make a connection to another train, so revenues assigned directly to the corridor take a hit. We are lucky in that the portion of the NEC in Rhode Island is in excellent shape, and we have PTC in place. But significant capital improvements need to be made (Gateway, North South Rail Link, etc) if the present level of service is to be maintained, let alone improved. That money can only come in large part from the Federal Government. Rhode Island can not afford to spend its tax money on a rail project in New York. If the National System goes away or is significantly degraded, then the political balance in Congress that allows funding for both the National System and the NEC will be broken. The Senators from Kansas and New Mexico are not going to vote to spend billions in the east on rail, when their sole train has been taken away from them.