By Noel T. Braymer
At the December 5th RailPAC/NARP Meeting in Los Angeles, Amtrak route managers for the Southwest Chief, Heartland Flyer and the Sunset Limited will be there to discuss the status of these and other western Long Distance Trains. I’m not expecting miracles from Amtrak. I realize that progress for the Long Distance Trains is hard to achieve and that funding and spare equipment is scarce. But we still need to plan if we want better Rail Passenger service. So here are 3 proposals that I believe have merit and with minor changes can produce major improvements.
1.) Rerouting the Southwest Chief to serve Pueblo, Colorado and to give better connections to the Denver area?
I wrote just a few years ago about the possibility of running passenger trains between Raton and Denver. I got a heated reply to this that this was impossible because of the heavy coal train traffic on this line. Well the coal train traffic is way down since then with no sign of it rebounding. Also, the city of Pueblo was a major supporter for finding Federal Funds to repairs to the tracks of the Southwest Chief between New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas.Pueblo is also one of the few cities between Albuquerque and Kansas City. The extra ridership from Pueblo would help the Southwest Chief.
2.) Extend the Heartland Flyer to connect with the Southwest Chief?
This would greatly increase the revenue generation of both trains and provide service to more markets. It would also create more connections to the Sunset and Texas Eagle for the Southwest Chief. Many of the people along the route of the Heartland Flyer have wanted an independent extension of the Heartland Flyer all the way to Kansas City for a daytime arrival and departure catering to mostly local travel. So far funding for this short distance service has not been found. For much less money the Heartland Flyer can be extended to meet the Southwest Chief in the early morning in Kansas, while generating more revenue and passenger miles than a stand alone service to Kansas City.
3.) A daily Sunset?
After quite a bit of publicity a few years ago, Amtrak backed down from an attempt to get the Union Pacific’s co-operation to run a daily train with the Sunset Limited. Since then there has been no talk of this long overdue increase in service between some of the largest cities in the country. A daily train makes more sense than running trains Tri-weekly.It costs almost as much to run a train 3 days a week as running a train daily. But a daily service carries more riders and produces more revenue. The Union Pacific told Amtrak not to bring up a Daily Sunset for a few years. Well that time limit has past. So, what has happened on the Sunset Route of the Union Pacific in the meantime? A major problem on the Union Pacific was the congestion in and around its Colton Yard. That problem has been fixed since Amtrak gave up on a daily Sunset with a flyover which separates the tracks in Colton between the Union Pacific Sunset Line and BNSF’s Southern Transcon Line. Also in the last few years most of the single track between Colton and Yuma has since been replaced with double track.Running a few additional passenger trans on the Union Pacific today is much less of a problem than it was 5 years ago.