Yeah, I was mentioning this as an example of Amtrak wasting money on a genuinely inferior routing when a clearly better routing is available which would serve more people, attract more riders, get more income for Amtrak, be faster, and cost less -- simultaneously.
Those "track upgrades" are a one-time thing -- they don't come with maintenance funding, so the route will immediately start deteriorating again. I'd feel differently if the states or localities had actually committed to long-term maintenance. They didn't.
These would be the bypassed stations:
Newton (an exurb of Wichita, replaced with Wichita)
Hutchinson (also close enough to drive to Wichita -- closer than I am to Syracuse)
Lamy (everyone getting off here takes a connecting bus or car to Santa Fe; they can can take a connecting bus, car, or train from Albuquerque)
The stations which don't have obvious alternatives are...
Arrivals + depatures, yearly
Dodge City: 4895
Garden City: 7378
La Junta: 7080
Trinidad: 5747 (but actually rising, unlike the others)
Raton: 16454 (the highest -- all boy scouts)
Las Vegas: 4851
Raton is all Boy Scouts. The Boy Scouts going to Raton? Fewer and fewer each year -- it's a declining business, though it's still a lot for now.
The population of the Amarillo metro area is roughly 263,000. For comparison, Lynchburg, VA is 260,000, Champaign-Urbana is 238,000, and Erie PA is 276,000. Erie gets 16,000 passengers per year with wee-hours scheduling. Lynchburg gets 14,000 on the Crescent (again with poor scheduling) and 67000 on the Regionals (with good scheduling). Amarillo would have good scheduling. We can guess that Amarillo would at least replace the Raton passengers, but I would expect more. Champaign-Urbana has multiple trains so not a good comparison point, but it has 37,289 passengers on the CONO alone.
Wichita has 644,000 population. Similar-sized cities with one train per day include Toledo, Provo (5500 passengers, with awful timing), Lakeland (20,000 passengers), and Springfield MA (14,000 on the LSL, far more on the Regionals). OK, I guess it's not so easy to predict ridership here!
Newton gets 13,700 passengers most of whom are, anecdotally, from Wichita. Hutchnison gets 4691. I would expect Wichita to retain the sum of these two numbers, conservatively.
So I guess based on current numbers the current route may still have more ridership -- if we're pessimistic about the uptake in Amarillo and Wichita, and we don't add enough other stations, the reroute might reduce the passenger count.
It might be worth comparing the population of the minor cities on the San Francisco Chief route -- these are larger cities than the ones on the existing route:
Also, people would drive from Lubbock. Trinidad is currently getting people driving from Pueblo and even Colorado Springs. Portales, NM is within driving distance of Clovis (and arguably Hereford and Friona are within driving distance of Clovis and Amarillo respectively).
If I were in a position to make a serious proposal, and I lived in that part of the country, I'd work up a business case, because I think it does turn out better -- partly because the trip is faster, partly because Amtrak doesn't have to maintain 500 miles of track, and partly because there is growth potential along the Amarillo route and not along the Raton route.
I have other priorities, though, living in upstate NY...
On reviewing this, I find that there's even lower-hanging fruit on the Southwest Chief route. It passes through Emporia, KS without a station. Every single city on the portion of the route from Newton to Lamy -- the portion I would prefer to reroute -- is either the same size as Emporia (Garden City and Dodge City) or much smaller than Emporia (the rest).