Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak in Missouri’

Restoration of State-Funded Corridor Services Presents a Mixed Picture

March 27, 2021

Passengers board Amtrak’s Chicago-bound Saluki at Effingham, Illinois, on March 21. The Chicago-Carbondale corridor lost one roundtrip since the COVID-19 pandemic began a year ago

Although Amtrak plans to restore daily service to most long-distance routes starting in late May, the restoration of corridor service cut during the COVID-19 pandemic presents a more mixed picture.

Some states might restore service by summer but that is not guaranteed.

Michigan Department of Transportation Rail Director Peter Anastor said he didn’t known when two suspended Wolverine Service roundtrips between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac) would return.

He indicated it will hinge in part on ridership and revenue trends.

“The CARES Act and the second stimulus bill helped fill the gap caused by fixed costs that stay the same whether you have 10 or 100 riders,” he said.

Michigan also funds the Chicago-Port Huron Blue Water and the Chicago-Grand Rapids Pere Marquette.

Although the Blue Water continued to operate throughout the pandemic, the Pere Marquette was suspended between March and last summer.

Anastor indicated new Venture coaches are expected to be assigned to Wolverine Service this spring, making it the first Midwest corridor train to have the new cars.

On other Midwest corridor routes, Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee is expected to increase to seven round trips on May 21.

Wisconsin Department of Transportation Rail Division head Arun Rao said the service expansion will be promoted with an extensive advertising push and increased social media activity.

Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Scott Speegle said his agency will decide in April when some other corridor services will be restored.

IDOT has suspended one round trip on the Chicago-Carbondale route, one roundtrip on the Chicago-Quincy route and two roundtrips between Chicago and St. Louis.

“We anticipate resuming full service no earlier that mid-July; the final decision on that time frame will be made in April, approximately 12 weeks prior to resumption of service,” he said.

Speegle said IDOT will review ridership and revenue numbers for the current service, anticipated costs, and the level of federal support.

Whether a second St. Louis-Kansas City Missouri River Runner will resume operating will depend on how much funding the Missouri legislature approves.

The Missouri Department of Transportation has requested funding for two daily roundtrips but the chair of a House budget committee has proposed funding just one roundtrip.

In the East, New York State has not announced its intentions in regards to restoring any suspended Empire Corridor trains.

Two routes funded by New York, the Maple Leaf to Toronto and Adirondack to Montreal have been suspended due to the U.S.-Canadian border being closed during the pandemic.

Elsewhere in the East, North Carolina will begin a fourth roundtrip starting April 5 in the Charlotte-Raleigh corridor.

Amtrak and the North Carolina Department of Transportation are reinstating a third Piedmont Service roundtrip, making this the first multi-frequency state corridor to be fully restored.

North Carolina reinstated a second and third round trip last August and December, respectively.

Another Downeaster trip to Maine is expected to resume in May after schedules are worked out with Amtrak and host railroad Pan Am Railways.

Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority Executive Director Patricia Quinn said the new schedule will be a little different.

“Instead of just plugging two midday trains back into their old slots, we’re adding a 10:30 a.m. departure from Brunswick, which will turn as a 3 p.m. departure from Boston,” she said.

“Given the change in commute patterns, we decided to try something different, assuming we won’t need two trains leaving Boston for the evening rush hour, but the additional round-trip means we will again have a flex schedule for the late-night train from Boston to accommodate sports fans and concert goers.”

Quinn said weekday and weekend schedules will now be identical.

In the West, one Capitol Corridor roundtrip will on March 29 be extended from Oakland to San Jose.

Capitol Corridor managing director Rob Pagette said there will be a change in departure times based on the way customers now use the trains.

“We’re about at 15 percent of where we were in February 2020 but we are looking to have a more robust service by September,” he said.

“We’ve seen more demand spread throughout the day, and this has allowed us to improve the efficiency of how we use our equipment by (temporarily) going from seven to six consists.”

Pagette said officials will be watching to determine where people are riding after the schedule change to determine where we add back the seventh consist.” An eighth trainset will be added later.

The extended round trip to San Jose will originate in Auburn because there appear to be increasing numbers of “super commuters” who ride 80 miles or more to their jobs.

Ridership trends during the pandemic have shown that if passengers are less likely to travel every day, more will opt for less-costly housing further away from the Silicon Valley.

In the San Joaquin corridor, a fifth roundtrip is expected to be added in in the fall. However, the two round trips to Sacramento aren’t likely to return until early 2021 at the earliest.

Those plans, though, are contingent on ridership stabilizing.

In Southern California, the LOSSAN Rail Corridor Agency expects to restore one Pacific Surfliner roundtrip between San Diego and Goleta in July or August.

The date of that service restoration is dependant on available funding.

In the Pacific Northwest, the Washington Department of Transportation is eyeing returning two Seattle-Portland roundtrips in mid May.

Currently, the Cascades Service is operating with one Seattle-Eugene, Oregon, round trip.

Officials are considering increasing Portland-Eugene service to two roundtrips.

Jefferson City Station to Stay Put for Now

January 13, 2021

The State of Missouri has given officials in Jefferson City six more months to find a new site for an Amtrak station.

The station currently is a trailer situated in the parking lot of the Jefferson Landing State Historic Site.

The state has ordered the trailer removed in order to create additional parking spaces for state employees.

One proposed site for the trailer was nearby city-owned land, but that proposal fell through because it would have been blocked by one of the entrances to the historic site lot.

The station for several years had been located in the Union Hotel. However, it was closed in fall 2019 due to structural defects in that building.

Jefferson City is served by Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner trains between St. Louis and Kansas City.

Missouri River Runner Gets Another Coach

June 12, 2020

In anticipation of increased ridership, Amtrak has added an additional coach to Missouri River Runner service between St. Louis and Kansas City.

The carrier said the expanded equipment consist will provide additional seating while maintaining social distancing.

Missouri River Runner trains will now have three coaches available although only half of the seats are being sold.

Amtrak operates one roundtrip daily between the two cities. Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic service had been two daily roundtrips.

There also had been a fight in the Missouri legislature over whether to continue funding two roundtrips per day.

Missouri River Runner Schedule to Change as Funding Debate Continues in Budget Committee

March 17, 2020

Amtrak will change the schedule of Missouri River Runner No. 311 to operate an hour earlier effective March 23.

In a service advisory Amtrak said the changes were being made in a bid to improve the train’s n-time performance and passenger satisfaction.

In the meantime, Missouri legislatures are grappling with whether there will be two or four River Runners when the state’s next fiscal year begins on July 1.

A budget plan approved by a House committee would retain the present two daily roundtrips between St. Louis and Kansas City, but a news report indicated that how to pay for that level of service remains an unresolved issue.

Missouri owes Amtrak $12 million for service provided but not paid for over the past decade.

The unpaid balance has been ringing up 12 percent interest in the meantime.

The chairman of the House budget committee, Cody Smith, offered an amendment to direct the Missouri Department of Transportation to pay for no more than one daily roundtrip.

Smith’s amendment directed Amtrak to operate the current level of service but making up the difference between what the state is willing to pay and how much the service cost by increasing fares.

However, the committee voted 19-16 to strike Smith’s amendment before sending the budget on to the full House.

Lawmakers continue to discuss whether to reduce service and pay off the debt to Amtrak or to keep service at its existing level.

Since 2017, the legislature has approved $9.1 million each year for Amtrak service.

The budget for next year also calls for that same level of funding.

However, the service actually cost $10.6 million in 2017 and expected to cost $12 million next year.

Paying the debut to Amtrak and funding two daily roundtrips would cost an additional $12.2 beyond the $9.1 million now in the budget bill.

Smith said he wants the state to pay off its debut to Amtrak but limit the service to what the legislature ends up appropriating for it.

He said that would prevent Missouri from getting into debt to Amtrak again.

In 2014 MoDOT accepted $50 million in federal funding for station improvements and ending the River Runners would put the state on the hook for paying back $36 million of that funding.

Rep. Aaron Griesheimer, who represents Hermann and Washington, both stops for the River Runners joined with lawmakers from St. Louis and Kansas City in arguing that Amtrak service is good for commuters and tourism, keeps traffic off the highway and bringing visitors to spend money.

He also cited the value of connecting Missouri’s two largest cities.

If River Runner service fell to one roundtrip per day it would be impossible for commuters to use the trains because they would have to find another one-way transportation for the other leg of their trip, Griesheimer said.

State Rep. Deb Lavender of Kirkwood said people in her district frequently ride Amtrak for day trips to Hermann or Washington.

She said every dollar the state spends on tourism results in tourists spending more money within the state, she said.

Lavender suggested using state tourism funds to cover the remaining balance, but she withdrew her amendment after Lynn Struemph, director of finance for the Division of Tourism, testified that they would have to cut advertising and promotions if the money was diverted from that fund.

Amtrak funding is makes up a small slice of MoDOT’s $3.66 billion budget. Transportation funding in Missouri is paid for by dedicated user fees, fuel taxes and federal funds, but Amtrak service is funded by the state’s general revenue.

Missouri River Runners Facing Service Cut

March 16, 2020

A budget plan making its way through the Missouri legislature is expected to reduce Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner service.

The plan would appropriate $12 million for Amtrak service in the next fiscal year.

But once the state pays off its debt to Amtrak for past service provided there would only be enough funding left to pay for one daily roundtrip between St. Louis and Kansas City.

Missouri has fallen being paying its bills to Amtrak for the River Runners since 2010 and now owes an estimated $6.5 million.

Amtrak is allowed to charge 12 percent interest on the outstanding debt but has yet to threaten to discontinue service.

The next fiscal year in Missouri begins on July 1.

Missouri Department of Transportation Director Patrick McKenna said in January that the state cannot end Amtrak service because it still owes the federal government $36 million for station improvements on the 283-mile route.

The River Runners carried 167,000 passengers in 2018 but saw ridership fall last year due to cancelations prompted by flooding.

Trailer to be ‘Temporary’ Jefferson City Station

December 16, 2019

A trailer is being readied in Jefferson City, Missouri, to serve as a temporary Amtrak station.

The existing station inside the Union Hotel was closed two months ago after a structural inspection of the site found it to be unsafe.

The hotel was built in 1855 and is part of the Jefferson Landing State Historic Site that also houses the Elizabeth Rozier Gallery.

Officials say the temporary station is expected to open within two to three weeks

The trailer is being provided by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and will be situated in parking lot No. 3 adjacent to the Lohman Building at the Jefferson City landing.

The trailer are on site and workers from the Jefferson City Street Division are connecting utilities for restrooms and constructing a handicap-accessible ramp for the entrance.

Tiffany Patterson, director of the Missouri State Museum and Jefferson Landing State Historic Site, said her agency will conduct short-term study on what could be done to shore up the building.

The primary short-term concern is the north wall of the hotel, which faces the railroad tracks, where a bulge has developed.

“We completed some selective demolition in the hotel on the interior finish, looking at masonry of the interior wall so the engineer can better look at it,” Patterson said. “He should be back to do his inspection at the end of week, and we’re not sure how long before his final report is done, but we can’t make plans to move forward until that report is done.”

In the meantime, Amtrak passengers have been waiting beneath tents and forced to use portable restrooms. Seating is a handful of lawn chairs, office chairs and a bench

Officials said the last major masonry repair at the hotel was done in the early 1970s, although the roof was replaced in 2017.

Missouri State Parks leases the hotel property from from the Office of Administration of the DNR. The parks agency is responsible for maintaining the property.

Jefferson City is the fourth busiest Amtrak station in Missouri, trailing Kansas City, St. Louis and Kirkwood.

The Missouri Department of Transportation issued a state rail plan in 2012 that called for construction of a new Amtrak station.

The cost of that facility was put at $11 million, but funding for the project has yet to be approved.

Jefferson City Waiting Room Temporarily Closed

October 7, 2019

The waiting room of the Amtrak station in Jefferson City, Missouri, has been temporarily closed.

Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner trains will continue to stop at the station platforms to board and discharge passengers.

The closure does not affect the station platforms.

During the closure Amtrak said passengers will not have access to the inside of the station or restrooms.

City volunteers will be on site to help with questions or directions during scheduled train times.

Amtrak did not explain in its service advisory why the waiting room is closed or how long the closure will last.

River Runners Suspended Through June 10

June 4, 2019

Amtrak said today that it has extended the suspension of its Missouri River Runner service between St. Louis and Kansas City through June 10.

It cited continued heavy freight traffic on host railroad Union Pacific on the route of the River Runners, which has been the result of flooding in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

The service suspension has been in effect since May 22. Passengers are being transported to and from all stations served by the trains via chartered buses that seek to operate close to the schedule of the trains they’ve replaced.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said it along with the Missouri Department of Transportation, which funds the River Runners, is continuing to monitor the situation on a daily basis.

UP officials said that flooding has receded slightly in some areas, but a level break  is expected to cause severe flooding at Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

Also out of service for now is Amtrak’s Texas Eagle, which has been suspended between St. Louis and Fort Worth, Texas.

Nos. 21 and 22 continue to operate between Chicago and St. Louis and between Fort Worth and San Antonio.

Flooding in Missouri briefly caused a suspension of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief last week, sending passengers to chartered buses.

Amtrak’s Missouri River Runners use the Sedalia Subdivision between Kansas City and Jefferson City, Missouri, and UP officials have been carefully watching flooding near that route.

Another UP route between Kansas City and Jefferson is closed due to flooding.

A report said the BNSF Ottumwa Subdivision, used by Amtrak’s California Zephyr, had water covering the tracks in Burlington, Iowa.

However, trains were operating through there at reduced speed and the Mississippi River had reportedly crested at 24.5 feet last Saturday.

A breached levy did not affect the BNSF tracks in Burlington because they are outside of the level system used to protect downtown.

BNSF personnel were relaying operating instructions to passing trains via radio because power to switches had been disrupted.

The flooding in the Midwest is the worst the region has seen since 1993.

Amtrak Missouri Reach New Contract

April 10, 2019

The Missouri Department of Transportation has signed a new contract with Amtrak for operation of the Missouri River Runners that has costs similar to those paid in the previous fiscal year.

The state appropriation for Amtrak in FY 2018 was $9.1 million, after a $500,000 restriction was imposed by former Gov. Eric Greitens.

MoDOT’s FY 2019 budget request for Amtrak operations is $15.1 million. The agency is seeking $16.6 million for Amtrak service in FY2020.

Missouri has funded St. Louis-Kansas City service since the New York-Kansas City National Limited between the two cities was discontinued on Oct. 1, 1979.

Missouri funding of service between the two cities began on Oct. 28, 1879, when the Chicago-St. Louis Ann Rutledge was extended to Kansas City.

River Runners to be Restored on Monday

March 30, 2019

Amtrak will restore operation of the Missouri River Runners between St. Louis and Kansas City on Monday.

Nos. 311, 313, 314, 316 had been suspended for the past two weeks due to freight train congestion on their route.

Flooding in Missouri, Iowa and Nebraskas had led to surge in freight traffic using the former Missouri Pacific mainline between Missouri’s two largest cities.

Amtrak agreed to replace the trains with chartered bus service after UP said Union Pacific said it would be unable to handle the trains in a timely matter.

Flooding has washed out some routes in the Midwest but the no washouts have been reported on the St. Louis-Kansas City line, which follows the Missouri River in part.