Invitations have been going out for a passenger rail summit, set for to Topeka in October. That summit will concentrate on the Southwest Chief and a proposed extension of the Heartland Flyer.
The Southwest Chief is a long distance train connecting Los Angeles and Chicago, with several stops in Kansas each day. The train stops in Newton each day. The Heartland Flyer is a train that connects Fort Worth, Texas and Oklahoma City. Advocates have been working to extend that train to Newton, and connect with the Chief, for more than a decade.
"Newton is the junction point for our initiatives," wrote Evan Stair, president of Passenger Rail Kansas and Passenger Rail Oklahoma "The thrust of our message is as much economic development as it is transportation. Our desire is to see the Chicago-Los Angeles Amtrak service, the Southwest Chief, preserved and meet in Newton with an extended Heartland Flyer. I hope you agree that a second train, in the form of the Heartland Flyer, would further support Newton economic development objectives.
This week organizers of the summit sent invitations to the leaders of several cities, including Newton. An email from Stair formally invited Mayor Kathy Valentine, Vice Mayor Leroy Koehn; and Commissioners Barth Hague, Glen L. Davis, and Rod Kreie to the summit from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. October 12 at the Great Overland Station, 701 N. Kansas Ave., Topeka.
Stair has also sent letters inviting the city leaders from Garden City, Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita and others. Also invited will be the Kansas congressional contingent.
"We have been concerned this summer about Southwest Chief operations," Stair wrote. "Amtrak informed a bipartisan, bicameral group of U.S. lawmakers earlier this summer of plans to substitute bus for rail service between Dodge City and Albuquerque on the Southwest Chief route. Fortunately, U.S. Senators Jerry Moran, Pat Roberts; and U.S. Representative Lynn Jenkins; and other lawmakers acted to preserve all-rail service between Chicago and Los Angeles. We have invited these lawmakers and staff to provide attendees with a report."
Earlier this year Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan) offered an amendment to a transportation bill that designated $50 million to infrastructure upgrades for the Southwest Chief. That bill passed out of the Senate on a nearly unanimous vote and is headed to conference committee.