Southwest Chief
Frequently Asked Questions

Project Details

 

What is this project?

The Southwest Chief Thru-Car Alternatives Analysis project will evaluate a new passenger rail connection between Colorado Springs, Pueblo and the existing Amtrak Southwest Chief station stop in La Junta, Colorado. The Southwest Chief currently operates eastbound and westbound trains between Chicago and Los Angeles. Proposed Thru-Car train service would connect Colorado Springs and Pueblo to the existing Southwest Chief route, allowing travelers aboard the Southwest Chief an opportunity to reach Pueblo and Colorado Springs by rail, and vice versa. The project team will evaluate service options and capital investment options to accommodate this new passenger service, which would operate predominantly on existing Class I freight railroad tracks.  

What is a Thru-Car?

Thru-Car is traditionally defined as a train passenger car that is attached/detached to/from a trainset which is operating along a main route, allowing a passenger to travel to a different location and back to the main route. In the context of this project, the Thru-Car would carry passengers between Colorado Springs, Pueblo, and La Junta. The Thru-Car service would be synchronized with the arrival/departure schedules of the eastbound and/or westbound Southwest Chief. As an alternate option to coupling and decoupling Thru-Cars to the Southwest Chief, standalone equipment may be recommended to shuttle passengers between Colorado Springs, Pueblo and La Junta.

Why is this project happening?

The reactivation of passenger rail service along this historic railroad alignment will provide national and regional transportation linkages and social and economic benefits to Colorado communities on the Front Range. The extension of service will also benefit the financial viability of the Southwest Chief by adding significant ridership and revenue to the long-distance service, while supporting the incremental development of a new passenger rail network along the Front Range of Colorado from Pueblo to the south, to Denver, and Fort Collins to the north.

The following needs have been identified through the projects Purpose & Need process:

  • Need to provide transit service to additional travel markets along the southern Colorado Front Range to enhance regional and intercity connectivity (primary).

  • Need to provide additional safe, reliable, and efficient travel choices in the Southern Colorado Front Range (along I-25 and US 50), particularly with projected changes in population and employment (primary).

  • Need to support tourism and economic development goals of local jurisdictions through attracting out of state visitors and transit station development and/or enhancement (secondary).

  • Need to advance a longer-term passenger rail vision throughout Colorado (secondary).

  • Need to provide safety improvements and modifications to the rail corridor for the introduction of passenger rail services between La Junta, Pueblo and Colorado Springs (secondary).

How does this relate to Amtrak?

Amtrak currently operates a long-distance intercity train, the Southwest Chief, which runs between Chicago and Los Angeles. In Colorado, there are station stops in Lamar, La Junta, and Trinidad. The Thru-Car service would be synchronized with the Southwest Chief schedule, creating new mobility options and connections between La Junta, Pueblo and Colorado Springs, and other stops along the Southwest Chief route. Amtrak has also identified the Front Range corridor in its 'Connect US' vision, which can be seen here:  https://www.amtrakconnectsus.com/maps/

 

How does this relate to Front Range Passenger Rail?

This is a standalone project from Front Range Passenger Rail. The two projects address different purposes and needs. The proposed routing, however, does overlap with potential Front Range Passenger Rail routing between Pueblo and Colorado Springs. In the future, these potential services would likely be synchronized to address common service goals, like increased ridership and connectivity. Studies and updates on the Front Range Passenger Rail project can be found at www.frontrangepassengerrail.com

How does this relate to the country's larger rail network?

The map below depicts Amtrak’s Proposed ‘Connects US’ vision for Colorado. Existing routes for the California Zephyr (Chicago to San Francisco) and Southwest Chief (Chicago to Los Angeles) can be seen in dark blue. The Thru-Car service would connect the Southwest Chief route to Pueblo and Colorado Springs (as shown in the study area of this website). In the future, potential Front Range Passenger Rail service could further enhance rail connectivity along the Front Range.

 

 

 

What will the result of this project be?

This Project will result in recommendations for service plan(s) and associated infrastructure investments, which will allow the Southwest Chief Thru-Car project to advance into National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process and ultimate rail service. 

Who is leading this project?

This project is being jointly managed by the Southwest Chief and Front Passenger Rail Commission and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT).

Created by the Colorado State Legislature in 2017, the Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission has 11 voting members, five of whom are appointed by the governor and represent railroads, passenger rail advocates, and counties in southern Colorado served by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief. Six other voting members represent the metropolitan planning organizations along the Front Range and RTD. Meanwhile, three non-voting members represent CDOT, Amtrak, and the City of Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Will design ideas be a part of this project?

Yes, conceptual infrastructure designs will be included in the analysis. Rail simulation modeling will result in identification of physical infrastructure improvements to reasonably accommodate Thru-Car passenger rail service without degrading freight operations. These improvements could be additional mainline or siding tracks, improved at-grade crossings, and safety upgrades, such as Positive Train Control.

How does this project relate to NEPA?

Our team will focus on deliverables that can be directly incorporated into future reports and documentation. For example, the purpose and need and initial environmental investigations completed during this phase can be fed into, and help streamline, the future NEPA process.

What is NEPA?

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires projects that use federal funds, require a federal permit, or will provide new or revised access to federal infrastructure, to analyze the project’s effects on the environment prior to a Federal Agency making approvals or taking an action on the project.

An Alternatives Analysis uses transportation planning decisions and analysis, including purpose and need, identification of preliminary alternatives, and elimination of unreasonable alternatives, to inform NEPA. This helps reduce and eliminate duplication of work in the planning and NEPA processes.

When will the physical infrastructure be constructed?

The physical infrastructure, known as capital investments, will be identified during this analysis, and further refined during the NEPA process. Future phases will include final designs and construction packages.

Will Southwest Chief Thru-Car service operate on existing infrastructure?

This service would utilize existing freight rail segments in Southeast Colorado between the cities of La Junta, Pueblo and Colorado Springs. Some newly constructed infrastructure, such as additional passing sidings and crossing upgrades, would be required to accommodate the Thru-Car passenger service. The existing railroads, owned by BNSF Railway and Union Pacific Railroad, were previously identified as the most viable routing for Southwest Chief Thru-Car service. 

National Rail System.PNG

Community & Environment

Documents & Studies

What documents exist on this and other projects and studies?

You can pass along Links to related documents can be found on the ABOUT page on the Front Range Passenger Rail website. Deliverables from this project will also be made available on this website as they are finalized.

For frequently asked questions about the Front Range Passenger Rail, click here.

How can I get involved?

You can submit comments, questions, or sign up to receive email notifications via the project comment form. Check back regularly at www.frontrangepassengerrail.com for recent updates.

Where can I leave a comment or provide feedback?

You can pass along feedback to the project team by filling out the project comment form.

How will stakeholders be involved in this project?

The South Segment Stakeholder Coalition meets periodically as a group with the project team to review and provide feedback on project concepts and deliverables. Additionally, individual representatives participating in the Coalition conduct one-on-one meetings with the project team to ensure that the approach, range of options, evaluation process, and decisions are supported by the Coalition.

The Coalition is made up of groups and organizations that represent a variety of community and user interests such as local governments, regional bodies, railroads, chambers of commerce, educational institutions, and transportation groups.

Community & Environment

How can I get involved?

You can submit comments, questions, or sign up to receive email notifications via the project comment form. Check back regularly at www.frontrangepassengerrail.com for recent updates.

Where can I leave a comment or provide feedback?

You can pass along feedback to the project team by filling out the project comment form.

How will stakeholders be involved in this project?

The South Segment Stakeholder Coalition meets periodically as a group with the project team to review and provide feedback on project concepts and deliverables. Additionally, individual representatives participating in the Coalition conduct one-on-one meetings with the project team to ensure that the approach, range of options, evaluation process, and decisions are supported by the Coalition.

The Coalition is made up of groups and organizations that represent a variety of community and user interests such as local governments, regional bodies, railroads, chambers of commerce, educational institutions, and transportation groups.