Hickenlooper Signs Southwest Chief Commission Bill

May 14, 2014

Governor John Hickenlooper signs a bill that creates a commission aimed at preserving and expanding Amtrak's Southwest Chief passenger rail service in Southern Colorado. Standing behind him are State Rep. Leroy Garcia (D-Pueblo), Amtrak's Ray Lang, Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace and State Senator Larry Crowder (R-Alamosa).
Credit Shanna Lewis / KRCC

Governor John Hickenlooper signed a bill in Pueblo today to create a commission aimed at keeping Amtrak’s Southwest Chief rolling through southern Colorado. KRCC's Shanna Lewis reports from Pueblo.

The train follows the historic Santa Fe Trail through Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico as it travels between Chicago and Los Angeles. But it could be rerouted unless some $200 million in repairs are made to the tracks.

Rail travel supporters gathered behind Pueblo’s Union Depot to watch the governor sign the bill.

"This bill," said Governor Hickenlooper, "allows us to contemplate a full future for rail in Southern Colorado."

Hickenlooper says the nine-member commission will work with state and local governments in Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico as well as with BNSF - the freight railroad that owns the tracks - and Amtrak, to figure out an effective solution to preserve and expand the route. Hickenlooper says he’s excited to have people working together and expects to meet with neighboring governors in mid-June.

"I’ve got to sit down with the other governors and see if they’re really going to play," said Hickenlooper. "If they don’t play, it makes it very very hard for us. I think that Amtrak and Burlington Northern Santa Fe have been more than fair, but at a certain point in the next year or two we’re going to have to step up and start writing some big checks."

The Southwest Chief currently stops in Lamar, La Junta and Trinidad. The proposed plan to repair the tracks also includes adding a stop in Pueblo and possibly Walsenburg.