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Amtrak rolling off the rails

July 15, 2018

Amtrak’s recent announcement that its leaders are considering replacing much of the Southwest Chief route with a bus sounds like a tasteless bad joke (“Amtrak considers nixing Northern N.M. rail service,” July 4). Only a few weeks ago, Amtrak said it had no plans to eliminate long-haul trains, and operating such trains is part of its mandate. As Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., says, Amtrak is being less than forthright.

This year, Amtrak received record funding — although far less than the heavily subsidized airline industry — and its business is booming. Yet operators want to discontinue one of Amtrak’s more popular routes (I do not hold to the sophistry that replacing nearly a third of the route with a bus is anything other than a discontinuance).

Now we know why Amtrak is in the process of eliminating agents at five stations along the route. Much track work has been done in the past few years to improve the route, so much so that in a few weeks, the schedule of the Southwest Chief will be sped up. The only portion that remains to be worked on is in Colfax County, but now Amtrak, which has been a partner to this track work all along, says it is pulling out, citing specious safety concerns and misleading — and indeed erroneous — ridership and financial statistics.

It is clear this is part of a policy of the current Amtrak management to begin a discontinuance of the long-haul trains, which provide vital service to many communities otherwise not provided with public transportation, and transfer the monies saved to the Northeast, where Amtrak headquarters is located. Amtrak already has begun downgrading other trains, which of course reduces ridership. Then it can be said there is no need for the service.

It is gratifying that New Mexico’s congressional delegation vigorously opposes this action that deprives New Mexicans of their transportation options. Thousands of people use the train every year to visit Santa Fe; business will only be hurt by this decision. I urge everyone to fight back against this ill-advised move.

Duane W. Roller lives in Santa Fe.

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