Amtrak move makes sense for Clovis, taxpayers

We’re only a pawn in their game. We get that. But this seems an opportune time to let Amtrak know we’d love to see the Chief pass through here again.

Passenger trains ran through Clovis from its birth in 1907 — the railroad created the city from prairie grass high enough to tickle a horse’s belly — until May 1, 1971. That’s when taxpayer-subsidized Amtrak moved the San Francisco Chief route to the north, bypassing Clovis and Amarillo.

Today it’s called the Southwest Chief, traveling through Raton and Las Vegas, N.M., as it connects Chicago to Los Angeles.

Amtrak is threatening to abandon the northern New Mexico communities, as well as stops in Kansas and Colorado, unless it receives help funding upgrades and maintenance of railroad tracks.

Officials are asking taxpayers in the three states to share costs with Amtrak and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, which owns most of the tracks.

If they don’t, Amtrak suggests, it will reroute traffic where railroad lines are better maintained when its agreement with BNSF expires in 2016. That would mean passenger trains twice daily through Amarillo and Clovis.

States are being asked to provide about $40 million each over 10 years to keep the current route. In other words, taxpayers in eastern New Mexico would be paying to prevent passenger train service from returning to the region.

Our preference: Save the tax dollars, welcome back the passenger train to the High Plains.

State Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, has fond memories riding the train from Clovis to Kansas City, where her husband was in dental school in the 1950s.

She’s a member of the Legislature’s Transportation Infrastructure Revenue Subcommittee, which heard Amtrak’s pitch for state funding last week.

“I hate to see anyone lose economic opportunities for their community,” she said, but she points out that Raton’s loss would be Clovis’ gain — which means New Mexico breaks even in the tradeoff, without spending $40 million.

Crook said Senate Majority Whip Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque, supports Amtrak’s proposal, but other committee members have been noncommittal.

Let’s hope the Legislature realizes Clovis is also in New Mexico and would realize economic benefit by adding passenger service to the 100 freight trains that pass through here daily.

Let’s also hope Amtrak considers eastern New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle have a population well over a quarter-million people — all potential customers for its services.