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Hutchinson News

U.S. Senators Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts of Kansas joined a group of bipartisan senators from five states in sending a letter to Amtrak urging it to uphold its side of a longstanding public-private partnership to continue operating the long-distance route of the Southwest Chief.

The passenger train runs daily between Chicago and Los Angeles and connects towns and cities in Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

The letter is the latest response by lawmakers to Amtrak after it advised last month it is exploring ending the through route because of the expense of maintaining a section of track in New Mexico that it has sole responsibility for, and instead adding bus service between possibly Dodge City and La Junta, Colorado.

Earlier this week, the group added an amendment to a spending bill in the Senate voicing support for long-distance train service that was approved on a 94-5 vote.

The letter sent to Amtrak President and CEO Richard H. Anderson “expresses deep concern” for Amtrak’s proposal.

“Long-distance passenger rail routes provide much-needed transportation access for over four million riders in 325 communities in 40 states,” the letter states. “Replacing train service through rural communities with buses is troubling, particularly for a quasi-governmental entity entrusted with an important public transportation mission. The suspension of rail service along the Southwest Chief route raises serious questions as to whether passenger rail service will be eliminated in rural communities across the country.”

In many cases, the line is the only affordable alternative transportation option to highways and is a critical link to public and private services in larger cities along the route for rural residents, the senators contend.

The Southwest Chief stops in several Kansas communities including Lawrence, Topeka, Newton, Hutchinson, Dodge City and Garden City.

The letter