A Connection Between The Amtrak Southwest Chief And The Proposed Front Range Rail Chugs Closer To Reality

Christopher Quinlan/Wikimedia Commons
The Amtrak Southwest Chief outside Devil’s Throne in New Mexico in 2017.

There’s money for Amtrak in the federal infrastructure bill, and Colorado’s proposed Front Range Passenger Rail System might benefit from those funds.

A state commission is considering the viability of linking the proposed service to Amtrak's Southwest Chief, a long-distance passenger rail line that runs from Los Angeles to Chicago with stops in southeastern Colorado and northern New Mexico.

La Junta City Manager Rick Klein is on the Southwest Chief & Front Range Passenger Rail Commission. He said they’re studying the idea of a through-car, which a passenger could board anywhere along the Chief’s route and ride it all the way to Pueblo or Colorado Springs without changing trains. It's a plan that's been on the table for the better part of a decade

For Klein, “the through-car is so important to the Front Range Rail, because it'll break us on to the front range.”

The commission is working with freight companies to make this connection by sharing existing tracks or building new ones, Klein said. Finding compatible train timing will also be an important factor to avoid scheduling conflicts and delays. He said this cooperation could be a model for other areas.

The Colorado Department of Transportation’s passenger rail program manager David Singer said it would advance the vision of connecting Colorado’s communities.

“We've seen nationwide that successful systems aren't built all at once, right, they're done in steps and so this is a logical first step for La Junta, Pueblo and Colorado Springs,” he said.

Singer said some of the things they’ll evaluate are tracks and bridges, ridership and potential stations, along with scheduling. The study will probably take about a year and a half to complete.

Klein said the analysis is important for Amtrak to assess the feasibility of linking the Chief to the proposed Front Range Rail.

In a recent virtual meeting about Amtrak’s vision for Colorado’s intercity passenger rail service, Southwest Chief & Front Range Passenger Rail Commission vice-chair Sal Pace said they’ve been meeting with stakeholders up and down the front range to build a plan for the north-south line.

“(It) isn't just a top-down approach from Amtrak,” said Pace, a long-time advocate for the Southwest Chief. “It's a real collaborative plan with the state of Colorado partnering with Amtrak to come to the table to design this opportunity for the citizens of Colorado and Wyoming and hopefully New Mexico as well as we connect to the Southwest Chief."

Future considerations may involve extending passenger rail service to include a stop in Walsenburg.