Amtrak Missouri General Assembly
Amtrak is back in the game, but Missouri again chooses to stay behind.
In the early days of the pandemic, service ceased – and the number of drivers dropped. Long distances are now being restored.
Take the Southwest Chief, who only runs his two-day run twice a day. One comes west of Chicago and one east of Los Angeles. It stops in Kansas City, among dozens of other locations. Last spring, the seven-day service was shortened to three days. Daily service on this and other routes will now be back at the end of May.
It’s more complicated, more political, and more frustrating for the traveling crowd for the Missouri River Runner. The train travels 283 miles through central state and stops at Independence, Lee’s Summit, Jefferson City, and elsewhere. Two trains a day run west of St. Louis and two a day east of Kansas City.
Last spring, the pandemic reduced that to one trip each way – in other words, a return trip a day. One measure reduced the number of drivers by more than 75 percent.
Despite all the signs that as vaccinations become more prevalent, the state of Missouri has taken no steps to fully restore service. The Department of Transportation has expressed its support for this, but the Missouri House of Representatives passed a budget that does not include full two-way service, preventing MoDOT from kicking off Amtrak.
“There is currently no plan for this,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari this week.
The River Runner, like many short distances, is supported by both Amtrak and the state.
The pandemic and the halving of the service took a toll on the number of drivers. Troy Hughes, MoDOT’s railroad administrator, said only 35,252 people took this train from April 1, 2020 to January 31, 2021. Compare that to April 1, 2018 through January 31, 2019 – 145,725 drivers.
Hughes said it would take Amtrak one to three months to get the crews and trains back into position once MoDOT is allowed to give the go-ahead. The state budget will not be ready for a few weeks and the governor will need time to review it before signing anything. Therefore, this unnecessary delay is likely to extend into summer.
This is not a good look for the state. A service that is paid for by taxpayers and drivers can be cut off immediately when a crisis arises, but restoring that service gets trapped in politics.
More optimistically, President Biden, an Amtrak attorney, has offered plans to expand the Amtrak service with several ideas that have been talked about for years. One is to connect Newton, Kan., To Oklahoma City. A driver could then travel from Kansas City to Wichita, Dallas / Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, and possibly even Houston. That’s probably more than a decade away, and it’s never good to rely on Congress to find the political will to affirm and achieve something new – but one can hope.
Jeff Fox is the editor of the reviewer. Reach him at [email protected] or @Fox_EJC.