County commission wants Amtrak to come to Belen

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Earlier this month, the Valencia County manager brought what he described as a "kind of obscure, proactive resolution" to the county commissioners for consideration.

The resolution is in support of doing a cost-benefit analysis on bringing Amtrak passenger service through the county.

County Manager Jeff Condrey told the commissioners at the recent annual meeting of the New Mexico Association of Counties, the resolution was presented to the commissions' affiliate and the managers group as well.

"It was regarding the likely elimination of (Amtrak passenger service in New Mexico) in 2016," Condrey said. "I think this would have a positive economic benefit to Valencia County."

Currently, Amtrak service travels through northern New Mexico near Raton, heads south to Albuquerque and leaves the state for points west via Gallup. BNSF owns the rail line used by the Amtrak Southwest Chief that makes the Chicago to Los Angeles run.

But the segment between Albuquerque and southwestern Kansas doesn't generate enough freight to maintain the track to the passenger train's traveling speed standard of 79 mph, Condrey said.

BNSF is asking for a multi-million dollar annual subsidy from New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas to maintain the Southwest Chief's current route.

The resolution asks for a cost-benefit analysis of rerouting the Chief through Belen, Clovis and Amarillo, Condrey said.

"These cities currently have no service. This resolution asks that an analysis be done of the costs to reroute versus an upgrade of the current route," he said. "This is a historical route, and of course we want to keep it in New Mexico. Now, I have a selfish interest in Valencia County but also for a number of counties to the south.

"Instead of automatically endorsing the northern route, we want them to consider the alternate route."

The resolution calls for the proposed alternate route and realignment analysis be paid for by Amtrak and/or the federal government. And if the alternate route is used, the Southwest Chief would be traveling on BNSF's transcontinental line and wouldn't need continued subsidies.

According to the resolution, Gov. Susana Martinez has publicly opposed a state subsidy of passenger rail service.

The new realignment could serve passengers in the Belen and Los Lunas area, as well as Clovis and Portales and Roswell and Artesia.

"If the U.S. follows the lead of Asia, I would anticipate a high-speed rail route eventually," Condrey said. "It would make more sense to go over this terrain rather than the mountainous areas in the north."

The commissioners approved the resolution unanimously. It will now be forwarded to the New Mexico congressional delegation, the governor, the Valencia County legislative delegation, the five mayors of the county's municipalities, the executive directors of the NMAC, the New Mexico Municipal League and the CEO of Amtrak.

The Belen City Council will be considering a similar resolution at their regular meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, July 21.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.