Monday, April 28, 2014

Trinidad: The Final Segment....for now

Today, my Railroad West segment on the town of Trinidad hit the airwaves. My trip to Trinidad was quite a while ago, and due to some technical difficulties the production took longer than usual. With some time between finishing the piece and it's airing, I've put the Railroad West series on the back burner of my mind. Hearing the piece go live this morning made me sad and nostalgic- It was my last piece on the radio until further notice.

Rest assured though, I don't plan on it being my last piece ever. When I first embarked on this train project with Martha in January, I had only been working at KRCC for four months. While I loved what I was doing, I really hadn't thought about what would come next, let alone a future in radio. Working on this project and getting to live the experiences I was later writing about solidified my passion for this kind of news, and I look forward to someday making a career in the world of radio journalism.

But for now, please take a listen to the Trinidad segment of Railroad West. I was so lucky, during my trip south on I-25, to hear from a number of people who have invested their time and interest in the future success of the old railroad town. Trinidad has suffered a number of economic blows over the past few decades, with the loss of coal mining (too expensive), the subsequent loss of freight train traffic (no longer needed), and then the relocation of the oil and gas industry to Texas. The Southwest Chief running through town is vital for transportation, but also for the growing industry of tourism, something locals are banking on to keep the city alive.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have worked with Andrea and Martha on these stories, to have met countless interesting, helpful and passionate people on our journeys on the Southwest Chief, in Denver, Raton, La Junta and Trinidad, and to learn the importance of small-town America and the connections we need to maintain there.

Please check back on KRCC for more local stories, or my page on the site to hear more of my work.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

New Mexico on The Southwest Chief

With the possibility for rerouting still under consideration, the state of New Mexico does not face as great a loss as Colorado; however, northern New Mexico towns like Raton and Lamy stand to lose a large economic driver in the Southwest Chief.

Raton stays connected to the rest
of New Mexico with the Southwest Chief.
Photo by Maggie Spencer.
KRCC News Director, our very own Andrea Chalfin, conducted an interview with Patrick Malone, an investigative and legislative reporter for The Santa Fe New Mexican, who has been focusing closely on the issue of the Southwest Chief in his state.

Listen here!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Stay Tuned!

As we finish producing the last few minutes of our series, we want to remind our listeners to stay tuned into KRCC to hear the rest of our pieces about the Southwest Chief. The past month has been an incredible journey for Maggie and I. Devoting ourselves fully to this project allowed us to get out into the field on many occasions and become more confident in our interviewing, writing, and producing skills. My favorite part of this project was physically riding on the train and having the chance to experience the incredible views and the generous hospitality of the men and women working on board. Through my research and interviews I developed a new appreciation for small towns in rural America, and was able to gain an intimate understanding of how the Southwest Chief positively affects these towns. The extensive and exciting history of the Chief is a truly unique story, and I hope that it will continue to be told, regardless of the future of the route. 

This series was a joy to create, and we hope you have enjoyed following us along the way! Please continue to check back here on the blog and the KRCC website for more information about the future of the Southwest Chief and to hear the rest of our series.

- Martha

Maggie and I in the Observation Car of the Southwest Chief.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Railroad Series Part One

If you weren't able to hear the segment broadcast in real time, or you just want to listen again, check out the link on to hear the first installment of our railroad stories. We're excited to finally have our hard work hit the airwaves and look forward to releasing more in the coming week.
- Maggie and Martha

Monday, March 10, 2014

What you hear on the radio...

Really looks like this! Our first piece of the series is in final production. Stay tuned for our air date in the coming days. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Marc Magliari and The Last Pioneer

We had the serendipitous opportunity to meet Media Relations Manager Marc Magliari in person for an interview last week in Denver. Based in Chicago, Magliari serves a very large section of the central United States ( as far east as Ohio and as far west as Montana) including most the Southwest Chief route, so we were fortunate that he happened to be visiting our state. As an Amtrak employee since 1995, he knows there will be more tears than finger-pointing if anything were to happen to the Southwest Chief. 

"Here in Denver, until 1997, we had a train called the Pioneer. The Pioneer broke off the California Zephyr here in Denver and went up to Borey, which is right outside of Cheyenne, across southern Wyoming to Ogden, UT, then up to Boise, ID and across to Portland, and finally to Seattle. It ran three times a week, and we eliminated it in 1997 because we wanted to make more trains daily than just three times a week. We needed the equipment basically to run more trains daily. 

"I was on the last Pioneer out of Seattle to Denver…and of all the experiences I’ve had at this job, that had to be the saddest and worst experience. I looked out the window just north of Ogden; the sun was coming up and we were on the edge of this cliff, and there was this river that dumped into a lake. It was mirror flat and reflected back. I looked out the window and saw the reflection of our train  and said, ‘My kids won’t be able to see this. I’m on the last Pioneer.’ 

"No one else was gonna see it either. Some freight crews would. And to lose that resource and connection is really hard for us as a company as a provider of the service and for the communities who lose it, so we’re working very hard to not have that happen, or expend every resource we can to make certain everybody knows what the consequences are should that happen, because we don’t want it to happen either.
photo courtesy of

"On that last Pioneer, the conductors who were working it were so broken hearted that they were selling parts of their uniforms to the passengers because they would never need them again. They were going to go back to running freight trains. So that’s how tough it is to pull out service and for it to be a last day. We don’t want anymore last days, we want more first days. We want more new days."

Conductor Gary Norris: "Once it's gone..."

Conductor Gary Norris shares the area's historical significance
from the Chief's lounge car.  
Conductor Gary Norris is based in Albuquerque and helps maintain the train all the way to La Junta and back. Although he plans to retire from Amtrak next year, he feels strongly about the future of the Southwest Chief on the current route.

"I believe they need to keep this route; it's really important. Once it's gone, it's gone forever. We can never get it back. As technology improves, train travel is going to become more energy efficient, it's going to become more desired, more needed in lots of ways. This helps transport people of all cultures and you can make a little money or a lot of money and still travel on Amtrak. It's an inexpensive way to travel, and so important. You just can't get rid of this; like I said, once it's gone, it's gone forever."

Norris is a self-proclaimed history buff; like most riders, he finds the route aesthetically pleasing, but knows more about the area than the average passenger can see from the lounge car today.

"Loving history as I do, it's just a constant, and knowing that we are following that same train ... you can just imagine those wagons coming through that area."

Meet Conductor Kelly Block

Over the past few weeks, we've met and collected the stories of dozens of train passengers, employees, small town citizens and local leaders. Like Martha said, we're beginning to realize how much of what we've learned about these folks won't make it into our radio series. We want to profile some of the interviewees that touched us, and hopefully you'll get to hear their voices on the radio soon.

Conductor Block in the dining car before the lunchtime crowd. 
Conductor Kelly Block has lived in La Junta off and on since 1978; growing up in a railroad town seemed to get to him in 2007, when he joined BNSF freight lines. He moved to Amtrak after an 18-month furlough from the freight lines, and has been a conductor on the Southwest Chief ever since, serving the portion between Dodge City, KS and La Junta.

"Every trip--no matter that I go the same route pretty much the same time of morning and same time of night--every trip is different. You never know who you're gonna get on, what might arise--anywhere from a problem passenger that we may have to have removed at a station stop, to someone who just makes my day or who smiles and laughs or you can joke with. Every trip is different."

Though rerouting would require Block to commute or transfer out of state, feels optimistic about the future of the Chief passing through his hometown. He said,
"It's convenient, it's romantic, it's train travel! What better way to go?"

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Love Train

We are busy, busy, busy writing the scripts for our on-air stories, and already feeling a little sad that virtually everything we collected won't be able to make it onto the radio. We gathered pages and pages of transcriptions from our interviews, but have to be choosy about what makes it into those precious few minutes. We want to take advantage of this blog as a space to share some of those stories with you.
Towards the end of our train ride to Raton from Lamar we met Dorothy Zipperle and Jean Heckman from Louisville, Kentucky. They've taken this ride together from Chicago all the way to Los Angeles "umpteen times," and have toured all over the United States on Amtrak trains. These women have been friends for over 30 years. "I'm a new first widow, and she's one, so we just started pairing off," Heckman explained, "We used to go with our husbands and now we just go with each other."

Zipperle, in yellow, and Heckman, in red, spoke with us in the lounge car of the Southwest Chief.
Zipperle said what they love most about the train is the ability to relax and take your time traveling, and the camaraderie among riders. "Everyone is so friendly," she said, "And no matter where you're from you have something to talk about. You talk about the view, you talk about traveling."
Zipperle and Heckman both agreed that the view from the Southwest Chief through Colorado and New Mexico is irreplaceable. "You two are in the next generation," Heckman told us, "And just look at what you're seeing. Maybe this is your first time. It's history." For Heckman and Zipperle, the Southwest Chief is an opportunity to spend time with each other and watch some of the most beautiful scenery in the world go by right outside the window.
Stay tuned for more little profiles of folks we met on the train. These interviews were some of our favorites-- they gave us the best insight into how important this train is to so many of its riders.

From Trains to Technology

After days of fun spent exploring the train route, meeting interesting people and learning about rail travel, it's time to get down to business back in the studio. Making radio depends a lot on technology, and we're certainly taking advantage. Here, Martha utilizes FOUR screens at once!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Trinidad Loves Company

That's what they say, anyhow! It was just over a week ago that we passed through Trinidad on the Southwest Chief, but yesterday I arrived by car and took my sweet time exploring the quaint town and learning about the train's past and hopeful future. In the morning I met with Mr. Acre and Ms. Bolton (mentioned in my last post) and learned that, above all else, the train is the main transportation resource for most folks in the community, including the councilwoman herself. Legally, the City of Trinidad is in full support of saving the Southwest Chief, and local officials have made their voices heard in meetings and hearings in Denver.

Between meetings, I walked down to explore the aging tracks; even from the perspective of a train novice like myself, they do need repair. The historic train depot, once serving innumerable passengers and trains per week, was recently renovated into an upscale restaurant. The buildings along the tracks, which closely parallels I-25, are abandoned and decrepit. Plans to build a multi-modal station are in the works in Trinidad, which will likely add appeal to the area beside the tracks. 

In the afternoon, I went to the Las Aminas County Courthouse to meet with County Commissioner Gary Hill and County Administrator Leeann Fabec. Both Trinidad natives, Hill and Fabec have seen the progression of the communities economy and the influence of the train on it's development. Trinidad was once a prosperous coal mining town, like so many in the area, but when mining became expensive and less ideal due to it's environmental harm, oil drilling took the lead as Trinidad's most successful industry. In recent years, drilling companies have relocted to Texas, taking a number of jobs and Southeastern Colorado families with them. Today, Commissioner Hill fears that if the town loses the Southwest Chief too, it's the 'final nail in the coffin', and that Trinidad will not have the ability to grow, but instead fall into ruin like so many of their neighboring communities. 

Trinidad was by far the largest community I've visited so far for the Chief project, and I wish I could have stayed longer to talk with local business owners and citizens. On my way out the door, Leeann Fabec pointed me toward Tara Marshall, Director of Trinidad's Colorado Welcome Center. I was lucky enough to track her down at City Hall for a quick interview before heading back up to Colorado Springs. Marshall has great hope that with the Southwest Chief, Trinidad will tap into their tourism potential and begin to prosper again.

Monday, March 3, 2014

La Junta, "The Junction"

This morning I hopped in my car, with my mic bag riding shotgun, and drove two hours Southeast to La Junta, Colorado. This was the first time I had driven on 50-East in the daylight, and my rear view mirror had never looked so good. The Front Range, Pikes Peak, The Spanish Peaks...the whole gang was there!
I started my day at Bent's Old Fort, where I interviewed Chief of Interpretation and Trails and Rails organizer Rick Wallner. Trails and Rails is a heritage appreciation program: The National Park Service partners with Amtrak to put volunteers on the trains to talk to passengers about what they are seeing out the window-- everything from flora and fauna to Santa Fe Trail history. On a particularly historic ride like the Southwest Chief, this service is wildly loved and appreciated by the passengers, who get to learn about things like Bent's Old Fort and the iconic Hotel Castaneda in Las Vegas, New Mexico. The volunteers also set up what Wallner called a "Mobile Visitors Center" in the Southwest Chief's Lounge Car, which features photographs and touchable buffalo furs and beaver pelts. If the Southwest Chief were rerouted away from Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico, this programming would unfortunately become nonexistent.

Wallner, in front of Bent's Old Fort's surrounding landscape.
Bent's Old Fort. For much of it's history, this was the only major and permanent settlement on the Santa Fe Trail between Missouri and the Mexican settlements. 
The fort is surrounded by all kinds of neat things, like this colorful wagon.
The second part of my day was spent with La Junta City Manager Rick Klein and La Junta Director of Economic Development Ryan Stevens. Klein and Stevens both emphasized La Junta's identity as a "train community" and a place whose history sits largely on its involvement with railroads. They want the train to stay right where it is, and assuming it does, the city is even planning on building a brand new train station.Both Klein and Stevens seemed more concerned about the cultural losses that La Junta would suffer if the train was rerouted away from the town rather than the economic losses. As Stevens explained, when most people think 'Colorado', they don't think about the tourism and history these smaller Southeastern towns have to offer. The railroad keeps them on the map.

I met with Economic Director Ryan Stevens in his office at Otero Junior College.

Replicas and remnants of La Junta's railroad past are scattered all over town.

I took a coffee break in the center of town at a charming diner called the Copper Kitchen. Note sign in top right corner!

One of La Junta's many unique shopping destinations.

La Junta's Amtrak station was completely empty, and sadly this sign indicated that it would stay that way until 3 pm...
This week we are focusing on getting ready to start producing! There's a lot of work that has to get done before we can get this stuff on the radio. Check back here on the blog for updates, and follow me and Maggie on Twitter for even more railroad buzz. (@MarthaPerezSanz and @MaggieSpencer21

On the road again!

It's back to Southeastern Colorado for Martha and me today, but this time separately. It's a little bittersweet that today is likely our last day in the field collecting audio for our radio series, as it's been inspiring to visit the towns (and passionate people working in them) that are facing the possibility of losing the train. As Martha mentioned in her last post, I'll head two hours due south on I-25 to the town of Trinidad, CO to meet with City Manager Tom Acre and Councilwoman Carol Bolton.

Last year, the two committed themselves to the Southwest Chief efforts and took the train (along with other state and local leaders) through the Kansas and Colorado portion in support. I spoke to a number of folks in Trinidad, and all recommended I meet with Mr. Acre and Ms. Bolton when it comes to Chief related questions. 

This afternoon, I look forward to speaking to Las Animas County Commissioner Gary Hill, as well. Martha will head east to La Junta for a number of meetings with local leaders and citizens there to learn about the train's influence on the community. Stay with us on our blog of updates on the radio project. Though the beautiful photos and live updates of our trips down south are coming to an end, it won't be long before you can hear the start of our radio series on KRCC-FM News! 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Looking Ahead

What a week! We have accomplished so much, but have a lot more ground to cover ahead. Since we returned from our ride on the Southwest Chief, we've been working on transcribing the interviews we collected and are getting prepared for our upcoming field trips.
This Thursday we will be meeting with Amtrak Media Relations Manager Marc Magliari in Denver to talk about what's happening at the core of the company. Magliari is usually stationed in Chicago, so when we heard he was going to be close by, we jumped at the opportunity to interview him in person. 
After that, the next step will be for Maggie and me to take individual trips to a Colorado town that is on the Southwest Chief line-- one that would not longer be a stop if the train is rerouted through Oklahoma and Texas. I have chosen to visit La Junta and Maggie has chosen to visit Trinidad. We are working on setting up interviews with city officials and county commissioners so that we can learn more about how these towns economically and socially interact with the Southwest Chief, and how they might be effected if the Southwest Chief no longer chugged through them. 
Stay tuned! In the meantime, here are a couple more shots from our journey from Lamar to Raton.

It was a clear morning at the depot in Lamar.

Empty storefronts at dusk in Raton, NM.

It's peaceful between meals in the Dining Car on the Southwest Chief. 

Taken from the depot in Raton, NM.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Today in 'The Pueblo Chieftain': A Letter of Support

As a frequent Amtrak passenger, I’d like to thank The Pueblo Chieftain for its support and leadership in retaining Amtrak’s Southwest Chief in Southeastern Colorado. 

This famous Chicago to Los Angeles train, not unlike Amtrak’s other long-distance trains, reliably serves rural America as it simultaneously connects major population centers. Americans cherish their freedom of mobility, but for many, especially those who are not urban dwellers, that freedom is being squeezed. Bus services largely have been withdrawn (unprofitable), air services are scarce and very costly and highways can be dangerous, intimidating, congested and slippery as we once again observe this winter. That leaves the rail option — a safe, comfortable, relaxed and weather-resistant alternative that also happens to be the most fuel-efficient form of transportation available.

Amtrak, “America’s Railroad,” is but a fraction of what it should be. Even though ridership increases every year and efficiency improves, our dysfunctional Congress fails to allocate sufficient financial resources for major growth and service improvements that would lead to yet more economy of scale. So those communities that have Amtrak service need to hold onto it, support it. Those who have no access to the rail network need to demand it.

Much of Amtrak’s capital is directed to its massive and essential Northeast Corridor service, leaving little for the rest of the country. But we in the West are no less deserving.

Which brings us to the matter of state financial support for the Chief in the absence of sufficient interest or resources at the federal level — which is its proper place in the role of jurisdiction of interstate commerce. While Congress dictated that shorter Amtrak routes must rely on state financial support, the Chief’s situation is different in that it involves hundreds of miles of neglected track maintenance due to downgrading of the line by its owner and Amtrak host railroad, BNSF Railway.

Some call the financial demands extortion, others just business. Or even abdication of responsibility at the federal level. So it’s put up or shut up for Colorado, New Mexico and Kansas. I say “put up” because the rail line’s existence and potential are too important to discard. Once the train is gone, it’s gone forever. Colorado should set the example because we lose it all, while the other two states will retain a portion of the route if the train is rerouted.

And, furthermore, there is a potential bonus for Colorado with the proposed Pueblo stop, creating numerous economic opportunities and mobility enhancements for the much larger population, complementing the existing served communities.

One final thought for Pueblo. If the train is saved and Pueblo is added as a stop, your community must make every effort to have Amtrak call at your awesome Pueblo Union Depot. I first saw it inside and out last summer and concluded that it would make a fine train station once again. Picture perfect. And it would make a great anchor for the eventual Front Range regional rail, connecting all Front Range communities. That should be the next priority.

I also was impressed with the sincerity and dedication of the folks at the Pueblo Railway Museum, who would like to develop a rail link between the depot and your beautiful Riverwalk. I am now a museum member — my effort at rail-oriented economic development. Speaking of new Amtrak stops, Pueblo and Walsenburg would be gateways to some of the world’s most revered tourist railroads. Even Colorado Springs is within convenient striking distance. Very symbiotic relationships.

But first, we must keep the Southwest Chief here, where it belongs. Otherwise, it may move to Texas.

Robert Brewster

News out of New Mexico

In all the excitement of our train trip Friday, we forgot to mention some important legislative news out of New Mexico that broke late Thursday night. According to a Santa Fe New Mexican article, the 30-day state senate session ended with no resolution to allot funding to the Chief. The 5 bills proposing funding were not brought forth before the end of the session, and therefore failed to pass. 

Though it would have been a relief to see funding guaranteed so far in advance, Colfax County Commissioner Bill Sauble told us in Raton Friday that many still feel optimistic and plan to strategize over the next year. 

Friday, February 21, 2014