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The long-haul Amtrak routes, while scenic and grand, distract from the more sensible services the line should be doing between major cities. If communities want to keep the service coming, they should find a way to pay for it.

Close to 100 people crammed into a small room at the Southeastern Colorado Heritage Center on Saturday to discuss how to keep Amtrak’s Southwest Chief route running through Colorado.

“This is more than just saving the Southwest Chief, it’s saving Amtrak in the state of Colorado,” Rick Klein, La Junta city manager, said to the enthusiastic crowd. “It’s important that we get this job done.”

The Southwest Chief is a route that runs daily between Chicago and Los Angeles with stops in La Junta, Trinidad and Lamar.

The route is an economic boon for those cities and serves as a source of tourism.

Amtrak has until 2015 to find a solution to maintenance problems along a 650-mile portion of track that runs through Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico. The train already suffers from speed restrictions and signaling problems due to the track’s condition.

Without resources, Amtrak will re-route the train or discontinue it altogether in 2015.

“This is an issue I care deeply about,” Sal Pace, Pueblo County commissioner, said. “I dream of returning rail to this country and to Colorado and I believe we can save the Southwest Chief.”

Pace outlined a plan to the crowd and some strategy for how to keep the Southwest Chief running through the state.

“My pitch today is we can save it and have the right people here in this room to save it,” Pace said. “We need to get with the capital development to get $2 to $5 million a year for 10 years and find a legislator who can be an advocate. There are a lot of potential advocates.”

Pace said he would like to see the Southwest Chief eventually stop in Pueblo at the Union Depot.

“We need to provide incentives for the track to come through Pueblo and it’s not inconceivable,” Pace said. “They want the tracks upgraded, so if we as taxpayers are willing to do that, building partnerships is not that difficult to do.”

Pace ended by urging the crowd to talk with their local lawmakers and representatives.

“It starts with your legislators, regardless of party,” he said. “You need to talk to your local legislator, member of congress or local elected official. Set up a meeting with them instead of calling or emailing. It’s so important. It will let them know we want to get this done and they are the ones who can help.”

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Tags: amtrak, colorado

Photo credit: View from the observation car on the Southwest Chief breathedontbreathe / Flickr

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