Amtrak plans to restart every day passenger service on its Southwest Chief route throughout Kansas starting Might 31.
In October, Amtrak reduce the road’s every day service down to a few days per week due to the pandemic. However the firm says new federal COVID-19 aid funding will permit it to revive every day service on the Southwest Chief and 11 extra of its lengthy distance routes over the following few months.
The Southwest Chief, the one Amtrak service in Kansas, runs from Chicago to Los Angeles and consists of native stops in Kansas Metropolis, Topeka and Dodge Metropolis.
For southwestern Kansas communities like Backyard Metropolis, the route supplies a reference to the remainder of the state and the area.
“If you stay in an space like this that’s very distant,” stated Lona Duvall, the president and CEO of the Finney County Financial Improvement Company, “it’s simply too necessary that folks have that freedom of motion.”
In 2018 and 2019, the Backyard Metropolis station served roughly 7,000 passengers yearly in a metropolis of slightly below 27,000 residents. For reference, Amtrak’s Topeka station served between 8,000 and 10,000 passengers those self same years in a metropolis of greater than 125,000.
“These ridership numbers are folks,” Duvall stated. “They’re individuals who should be in a special place for no matter purpose, and we’ve to make sure that we’ve each alternative to get them there.”
Amtrak additionally introduced a long-term plan this week so as to add a brand new route that will join the Southwest Chief to Oklahoma and Texas via the station in Newton, Kansas.
The road is a part of Amtrak’s imaginative and prescient so as to add greater than 30 new routes nationwide over the following 15 years utilizing cash from President Joseph Biden’s proposed American Jobs Plan. It will additionally carry passenger rail service to Wichita for the primary time since 1979. Biden has lengthy been an Amtrak booster.
Duvall says that connecting Backyard Metropolis with Oklahoma and Texas, locations the place many southwestern Kansans have already got household and enterprise connections, opens up new doorways for the neighborhood.
“Clearly, rail strains solely go the place rail strains go,” Duvall stated. “So having the ability to open up new markets the place we are able to journey to and from is big.”
Nationally, ridership on the Southwest Chief was down 43% in 2020, the biggest drop of any of Amtrak’s lengthy distance strains. However even earlier than the pandemic, the Southwest Chief was in peril of being discontinued.
Duvall says there have been a number of situations over the previous decade when Amtrak stated it might have to chop service to Backyard Metropolis completely due to the steep prices of crucial updates to the rail line.
“However every time,” Duvall stated, “we rallied.”
In 2018, senators from Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico reached an settlement to fund infrastructure enhancements alongside the route with cash from Amtrak and federal transportation grants.
However Duvall stated the specter of presumably shedding Amtrak service in Backyard Metropolis by no means fairly went away. When the corporate lowered service final fall, it created some anxiousness on the town.
“There have been definitely of us who thought,” Duval stated, “‘Uh oh, are they going to make use of this as an excuse to by no means come again?’”
However she says Amtrak’s current announcement – and the potential of a further $80 billion in new federal cash for passenger service infrastructure – implies that she and different Backyard Citians can really feel a bit higher about the way forward for rail in southwestern Kansas.
“We’re all respiratory an enormous sigh of aid.”