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Could the Santa Fe Depot welcome passenger trains again?

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AMARILLO - Amarillo is considering making a $2.6 million purchase that could pave the way for a passenger rail hub if Amtrak starts service in the panhandle.

Amtrak says it will take steps to re-route a section of its Southwest Chief line through to the BNSF transcontinental line that goes through Amarillo if they don't secure funding to fix old tracks on its current route by the end of next year. Though the idea is hugely hypothetical, Amarillo city leaders are already planning for it.

The Southwest Chief line runs from Los Angeles to Chicago. Right now much of the track between Newton, Kansas and Albuquerque, New Mexico is old and in dire need of repair.

Amtrak is asking New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas to pay $100 million over 10 years to upgrade the old track, plus an additional $10 million per year for maintenance.

If those states don't choke up the funds by the end of 2014, the line will likely move to the panhandle.

"If an agreement is not in place by the end of next year, with us, the effected states and the folks who own the tracks, the BNSF railway company, will spend the year after that looking to move the train," Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari said.

Amarillo city commissioners are well aware of the possibility.

"There have been conversations going on behind the scenes," Commissioner Brian Eades said.

Eades says the city has been in contact with all players involved, including lawmakers in Austin.

The price tag of a passenger rail is huge, Eades says, but it would be beneficial to Amarillo. That's why the city is contemplating purchasing the 6 acre Santa Fe Depot in downtown Amarillo for $2.6 million.

"You can just imagine how exciting it would be to have the Santa Fe Depot under control and then really gain new rail access," Eades said.

But Eades says the Santa Fe property will help develop downtown Amarillo even if Amtrak doesn't end up coming to town.

"There are all kinds of possibilities," he said. "Ultimately if you look at the long range plans for downtown, we're looking at things like a new coliseum. We ultimately need a new coliseum for bigger events and there's a lot of nice property there that we can use for that very purpose."

Discussions for the Santa Fe purchase are in the beginning stages, but Amtrak's move will stay hypothetical until 2015. The city will discuss the potential purchase of the Santa Fe depot tomorrow at the weekly commissioners meeting.

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