LAMY, N.M. — For 18 years, Maryalice Garrigan has been taking the train from this wisp of a town near Santa Fe to visit her family in Albany, spending four days to reach New York via a connection in Chicago. She cherishes the annual ritual: Sipping the whiskey she packs in a cooler, and tracing the creeks and mesas that whiz by with a map she brings on each trip.
But now the historic route of the Southwest Chief, which runs between Los Angeles and Chicago, is in danger of being altered, a shift that would sever a practical and symbolic lifeline for Lamy and other struggling rural communities. People here and in other small towns along the train’s path say that if Amtrak leaves, Lamy — population 200 — will simply dry up and drift away across the high plains.
Amtrak, which has operated the Southwest Chief since 1971, has asked Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico to each pitch in $40 million over 20 years to help pay for track upgrades and maintenance it says are needed to keep the route viable. But some state officials are balking, saying that Amtrak, which draws financial support from the federal government, should cover the costs itself.
If no deal is reached by the end of the year, it could mean both an end to a storied railroad route — one that generations of Americans have used to travel across the West and glimpse the old frontier — and to the utility of places like Lamy, a longtime railroad junction where El Ortiz Hotel, built in 1896, was once a symbol of luxury.
“Where would the train go?” asked Ms. Garrigan, waiting at the station here with a dozen other travelers on a recent Sunday afternoon. “They can’t take it away — there’s too much history,” she said.
Gone are the days when well-dressed families en route to Los Angeles or Chicago would peer out at Lamy from their seats in dome cars.
The town’s lone restaurant and saloon has been transformed into a railroad museum. A small plaque marks where El Ortiz Hotel once stood. And cartoonish signboards of Native Americans still stare out from the front of an out-of-service dining car — stage props of sorts, from a time long past. But the tableaus of badlands and desert, the lonesome stretches of railroad, are still there.
At several legislative hearings this month, county officials from northern New Mexico implored lawmakers to keep the railroad route alive.
“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.