Amtrak train service to Philmont in jeopardy

More than 5,000 Scouts will take Amtrak to and from Philmont this summer.

But unless a financial dispute between Amtrak and government leaders gets resolved soon, that convenient and historic transportation option could fade into history.

Scouts traveling to Philmont by train ride Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, which runs daily between between Chicago and Los Angeles, cutting right through the rugged and fascinating American West.

They get off in Raton, N.M., and hop a bus for an hourlong ride to Philmont’s gates.

Amtrak has asked government leaders in Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico to each pitch in $40 million over 20 years for track upgrades and maintenance. The states want Amtrak to foot the bill, which may force the train operator to end its service in Western Kansas, Southeastern Colorado and Northeastern New Mexico.

If the reroute occurs, the train would come no closer to Philmont than Albuquerque, N.M., more than three hours by bus from Philmont.

This isn’t just a convenient way for Scouts to get to and from the best hiking destination in America. This is a way of life for small towns like Raton along the route of the Southwest Chief.

From The New York Times:

“We need this train here,” said Jim Maldonado, chairman of the board of commissioners for Colfax County, where the train stops in Raton (population: 6,700), bringing thousands of Boy Scouts each year for retreats before dropping over the Raton Pass and into Colorado.

“Losing it would be devastating for our county,” Mr. Maldonado said. “Things have just been dying out here for years.”

John Clark, director of high adventure at Philmont Scout Ranch, told Yahoo earlier this year how much Amtrak means to Scouting.

“Kids have been riding the train to Philmont for 75 years,” he said. “Part of that is an economic factor, yes, but it is also about the boys learning about America. Very few of these kids, about 13 or 14 years old, have ever been on a train, and they are fascinated by it.”

The route of the Southwest Chief.

A historic gem

Scouts take Amtrak to Philmont by the thousands today, but in 1941, the train was the top means of transportation to the high-adventure base.

Check out this page from a brochure in which Philmont — then called the Philturn Rockymountain Scoutcamp — outlined transportation options.


Amtrak on the rise

Philmont risks losing Amtrak at a time when Amtrak ridership is setting records.

From the Department of Transportation: “Amtrak’s ridership is growing faster than any major travel mode. A recent Brookings Institution report noted that the growth in Amtrak ridership is growing significantly faster than ridership growth in domestic aviation.”

What can you do?

If your troop has taken or is planning to take Amtrak to Philmont in the future, you might consider sharing your story with New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.

You can contact Amtrak on their Contact Us page.

About Bryan Wendell 3282 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.