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Amtrak CEO to stop in New Mexico as officials consider future route of Southwest Chief

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SANTA FE, New Mexico — Amtrak's top executive is to travel through New Mexico on Saturday to meet with officials about keeping the Southwest Chief on its current route.

But New Mexico Transportation Department spokeswoman Melissa Dosher said no official from Gov. Susana Martinez's administration plans to meet with Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman because the agency didn't learn of the tour until receiving a news release from the rail operator Thursday morning.

Boardman will take a special train along the Southwest Chief route from Kansas through southeastern Colorado to Albuquerque, Amtrak said.

Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., will travel with Boardman in the state, and they'll to meet with local officials along the route.

Amtrak has warned that the route might be changed unless there are improvements to the track owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe. Amtrak has proposed that New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas help share the costs of maintaining and upgrading 600 miles of track used through their states for the Southwest Chief.

Boardman starts his trip Friday in Kansas. He'll stop in New Mexico on Saturday at Raton, Las Vegas and Lamy. He'll go by car to the Philmont Scout Ranch. Scouts often travel on the train in the summer to Raton and then head to the ranch near Cimarron.

Amtrak's operating agreement with BNSF expires in January 2016. An Amtrak official has told New Mexico lawmakers that BNSF doesn't want to upgrade sections of the track used by its slower-moving freight trains to meet the higher speed requirements for Amtrak's passenger trains.

Amtrak's suggested cost-sharing arrangement would have Amtrak, BNSF and three states each spend about $4 million annually for a decade to keep Amtrak's Southwest Chief line on its current route.

The Martinez administration has expressed reluctance to commit money for the route, but the state is studying the issue. Dosher said the department has contracted for an economic impact study and an engineering cost estimate analysis. Those are to be finished by October.

The Legislative Council Service is looking at the legal issues involved. The state constitution bars New Mexico from making donations to private individuals or entities.

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