PTC Payment Dispute Threatening to Disrupt Amtrak’s St. Louis, Kansas City Service

A dispute over who should pay for installation of positive train control on two terminal railroads is threatening the future operation of Amtrak in St. Louis and Kansas City.

If the dispute is not resolved by the end of the year, Amtrak may cease serving Missouri’s two largest cities or else other arrangements will need to be made for serving them.

Amtrak and the state of Missouri want PTC installed on the Kansas City Terminal Railway and the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis As small terminal railroads, neither is required by federal law to install PTC, but Amtrak and the Missouri Department of Transportation say that it should be

Amtrak spokesman Steve Kulm said that Amtrak is working with MoDOT on an “equitable solution.”

“We are hopeful a resolution can be reached to maintain current Amtrak services to Kansas City,” he said.

Amtrak already has received invoices from the two railroads for the installation expenses. But neither Amtrak nor Missouri is willing to pay them.

The Missouri Department of Transportation “will not blindly pay for implementation costs” of Positive Train Control, its director, David Nichols, wrote to Amtrak in December.

Amtrak and the MoDOT say the railroads should bear the burden of installing the system because of their freight operations.

They noted that 250 freight trains a day operate over Kansas City Terminal’s track in addition to six passenger trains. Kansas City is the nation’s second busiest rail hub behind Chicago, and St. Louis ranks third.

The estimated cost of installing PTC is $32 million in Kansas City and $700,000 in St. Louis. That doesn’t include future maintenance expenses.

In 2008, Congress approved legislation mandating the installation of PTC by Dec. 31, 2015, on all routes hosting passenger trains.

There is a move afoot in Congress to extend the deadline by as many as five years. PTC is designed to avoid train collisions, derailments and other mishaps, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

Amtrak operates two round-trips a day between the St. Louis and Kansas City that are funded by MoDOT. The Missouri River Runner service carried almost 200,000 passengers in 2013.

Also affected are the Chicago-Los Angles Southwest Chief in Kansas City, the Chicago-Antonio Texas Eagle in St. Louis and the Chicago-St. Louis Lincoln Service corridor trains.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said the service suspension could be averted if Congress passes legislation she has co-sponsored to give railroads another five years to install PTC.

“It’s unacceptable that we would disrupt passenger service in Missouri over this issue,” said McCaskill during a hearing of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “Everyone knows Congress will adjust this deadline.”

Extending the deadline, though, will not resolve the dispute of who will pay for PTC installation in St. Louis and Kansas City.

MoDOT asked the Federal Railroad Administration in December to treat the terminal railroads like the larger ones because of their heavy freight volumes and because such larger railroads as Union Pacific and BNSF have an ownership stake in them.

Michelle Teel, MoDOT’s multimodal operations director, told the Senate committee that Positive Train Control installation requirements “should not be triggered by a small amount of passenger rail traffic, but rather should be based on operation volume, population density, tonnage and commodities moved, especially hazardous materials.”

McCaskill said the Kansas City-St. Louis corridor may not be the busiest passenger rail operation in the country, but provides a vital alternative to highways and air travel.

“It’s not the Northeast Corridor,” she said, “but it’s essential in my state.”

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