La Junta City Manager Rick Klein, one of the driving forces behind keeping the Southwest Chief in operation, last week reported that TIGER VII (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) has been closed, all paperwork completed, for the 37 miles of rail in Kansas and Colorado and 20,000 railroad ties for track improvements in Northern New Mexico. Total value of TIGER VII was $24.5 million, with the federal government share amounting to $15 million.

TiGER VIII was rejected by Congress, but TIGER IX is now in negotiation in Raton, with Colfax County in Northern New Mexico leading the way. The total amount in TIGER IX is $21.5 million. Negotiations now center around maintenance of the track in New Mexico.

As released last week, Sen. Michael Bennet reported the acquisition of $9.16 million in federal funding to install Positive Train Control along the Southwest Chief rail line between Dodge City, Kan., and Las Animas. The funding was awarded through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Grant Program. The Colorado Department of Transportation applied for the grant with the Kansas Department of Transportation, local governments in Colorado and Kansas, and Amtrak. Colorado, Kansas and Amtrak contributed 20 percent ($2.29 million) as the match to the federal government’s 80 percent ($9.16 million).

“The total investment in this line is now above $100 million,” said Klein. “This is a testament to what private business (Burlington Northern Santa Fe), Amtrak, city, county and state governments working together can do.”

"A coalition of the states of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Amtrak, BNSF Railway, communities along the route, and ColoRail has worked for years to fund track improvements. The coalition obtained federal TIGER Grant funding in 2015, 2016, and 2018 (TIGER 9) to improve the track along the route," said a report in the Colorado Rail Passenger Association Newsletter.

"Amtrak this year informed the partners that it is withholding its matching funds for the recent Tiger and CRISI grants until a comprehensive funding plan and firm financial commitments are received for an estimated $50 million in costs for track and signal improvements in New Mexico," the report continued.

"But the state and local partners cannot meet this requirement. The partners have maintained that the highly successful federal grant process is a suitable plan. The delay is leading to scheduling problems for the trackwork anticipated in Tiger 9. It has also prevented the coalition from applying for a grant from the BUILD program (the new equivalent of TIGER) in 2018. Amtrak’s match for the Tiger 9 grant is $3 million.

"The U.S. Congress has not been happy about Amtrak’s position on the Tiger 9 grant match or the bus substitution plan. On May 31, 2018, the six U.S. senators from the three states, plus many of the relevant U.S. representatives, sent a letter to Amtrak strongly objecting to the move.

"Then, in August, the Senate passed an amendment to a House funding measure directing Amtrak to use $50 million of its current, record size appropriation for the maintenance and safety improvements it claims are needed in New Mexico. Recognizing the seriousness of the situation, Amtrak told Congress at an October Senate hearing that it plans to maintain rail service as-is through fiscal year 2019.  However, the matching funds are still being withheld while the partners negotiate."

bmcfarren@ljtdmail.com