The Southwest Chief rail line, just east of Trinidad, Colo. The Sangre de Cristo mountain range looms in the distance.

(Photo: Courtesy of Steve Wilson)
Twice a day, Amtrak’s Southwest Chief makes three stops in Colorado: Lamar, La Junta and Trinidad. Then it continues to either Chicago or Los Angeles.

The route goes back to the late 1800s, when Santa Fe began daily passenger service between the two cities. Later, the route became famous for Santa Fe's luxurious Super Chief, known as the "Train of the Stars."

Today, the Southwest Chief is one of Amtrak's busiest long-distance lines.

But daily passenger train service in Southern Colorado may soon be a thing of the past.

Amtrak says it will move the route south, to Oklahoma and Texas, unless Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico can come up with $100 million to repair deteriorating tracks.

So far, the states are balking, but Rep. Leroy Garcia (D-Pueblo) has introduced a bill that could set the stage for a solution. The bill has bipartisan support, and its sponsor in the Senate is Larry Crowder, a Republican from Alamosa whose district covers much of Southern Colorado.

Garcia's bill establishes a commission to determine how to pay for track improvements. The commission would have the authority to collect federal, state, local, and even private funds. The bill also calls for Amtrak to add a stop in Pueblo, which Garcia says will increase ridership on the Southwest Chief route.

"There are two ways to look at this," Garcia tells Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner. "One, there is going to be some cost involved for the repairs and upgrades and for adding a stop in Pueblo. But, also, there is a strong economic argument about what this brings for tourism in Southern and Southeastern Colorado, as well."