[NFBMO] Rail advocates urge state to restore funding for twice-daily Missouri River Runner service

Daniel Garcia dangarcia3 at hotmail.com
Fri Feb 4 00:52:49 UTC 2022

Thank you, Melissa for making me aware of this.


Rail advocates urge state to restore funding for twice-daily Missouri River Runner service
By Grace Zokovitch St. Louis Post-Dispatch 11 hrs ago  6
Missouri River Runner
Service on the Missouri River Runner has been cut to once-daily because of state budget cuts. (Amtrak photo)

JEFFERSON CITY - Rail transportation officials are looking to run a second train on the Missouri River Runner line again sometime this year, but so far, state lawmakers aren't going for it.

Since Jan. 3, the Amtrak line between St. Louis and Kansas City has reduced operations to one round trip a day. State lawmakers in 2021 budgeted only enough to run two trains a day for part of the year, and so far, this year's budget looks to keep only one train running.

At a meeting on Tuesday of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, members of the Rail Passenger Advisory Committee said they're looking to generate support to fully fund normal operations in the next fiscal year, as well as any supplemental bill or budget options to get operations back to normal in the coming months.

"It's $10.5 million for the first train and then $2.5 million in the second," said David Pearce, a former state senator and committee member. "For just a little bit more I think we can have a tremendous impact."

The budget for Amtrak approved by lawmakers last year was $10.8 million.

The train currently departs Kansas City at 8:15 a.m. and St. Louis at 4 p.m., including stops in Kirkwood, Washington, Hermann and Jefferson City.

Liz Gibbons, a member of the Kirkwood City Council, discusses Amtrak, the impact of funding and service cuts, and the company's plans for expansion of service in the state.

Liz Gibbons, a member of the Kirkwood City Council, said this doesn't reasonably allow passengers to get to their destination and ride back in the same day.

"Kirkwood is a train town," Gibbons said. "I mean that's what we were founded on. And not having two daily trains has made a significant impact on ridership. It's gone down tremendously since Jan. 3."

The train is now a less accessible resource for all 10 cities, Gibbons said. In a normal year with two trains running, about 170,000 people ride the line, bringing in $22 million in tax revenue.

Ridership, hit by the 2019 Missouri River flooding and then the pandemic, has been down for the last couple of years. Last July, the line restarted running two trains, aiming to return to normal operations and ridership.

Tammy Bruckerhoff, the tourism and economic development director for Hermann, said the line is vitally important to draw tourism to the smaller towns along the route.

Tourism coordinators, Bruckerhoff said, are cross-promoting the train with the Katy Trail and the still-developing Rock Island Trail. Communities along the line are also working together to sponsor activities drawing in more visitors, she said, citing a "Santa Rides the Rails" program last year.

The train is also commonly used by students and people with disabilities, representatives said.

"I actually rode the train up here in December and talking to the conductors - they were all concerned about losing their jobs, which some of them now have - and they said you know we get a lot of blind people on this train," Gibbons said.

Gibbons said she talked to a state representative for the National Federation for the Blind, who said that the train is the only public transportation into Jefferson City. The representative said the current schedule leaves many people with disabilities stuck in the city overnight when they come in to testify at hearings or talk to lawmakers.

Gibbons noted that Amtrak representatives have expressed interest in expanding to Missouri stops in St. Joseph, Hannibal and Springfield, but uncertainty around funding the second train has stalled progress.

Grace Zokovitch

gzokovitch at post-dispatch.com<mailto:gzokovitch at post-dispatch.com>

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