Ridership aboard Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner trains increased 1 percent in the first quarter of 2017.
“For January through March, we were up nearly 1 percent from this time last year,” said Kristi Jamison, Missouri Department of Transportation railroad operations manager. “In January, we were up 10 percent, but that went down in February and March.”
Boardings in Jefferson City fell by 0.5 percent during the period.
“I still believe we’re being affected by low gas prices, and we’re still seeing fewer riders coming into St. Louis because of work on a high-speed rail service to Chicago,” Jamison said. “The infrastructure on that should be done by the end of this year, so we’ll see how we rebound from there.”
Jamison said 30 percent of River Runner passengers make connections with other Amtrak trains in St. Louis or Kansas City.
“So when you have delays like what we’ve seen in construction of the high-speed rail service in Illinois, that drops the ridership level,” she said.
The on-time performance of the Missouri River Runners was 90 percent for the first quarter, with some delays caused by freight traffic congestion.
“We also benefited from a mild winter, which decreases delays caused by cold weather and its effects on the tracks,” Jamison said.
MoDOT does not expect any changes in the service level regardless of how much funding the Missouri legislature allots for the service.
In 2017, the service was initially allotted $9.6 million, but Gov. Eric Greitens withheld $500,000 from that amount, making the intercity rail passenger budget $9.1 million.
MoDOT requested $14.1 million for the Missouri River Runners for fiscal year 2018, but Greitens has recommended approving $9.1 million. The House approved that amount but the Senate has not yet acted on the budget.
“We’re not anticipating any changes to our service due to the level of state funding we’re getting,” Jamison said.
In the meantime, Amtrak and MoDOT have announced two fare promotions that will run through the end of August.
They include mid-week fare sales with a 25 percent discount when traveling Tuesday through Thursday and a Kids Ride Free sale for weekend travel Friday through Sunday for children ages 2-12 when accompanied by a full-fare paid adult.
Reservations are required at least one day in advance of travel. The Missouri River Runners operate twice a day between St. Louis and Kansas City with intermediate stops at Kirkwood, Washington, Hermann, Jefferson City, Sedalia, Warrensburg, Lee’s Summit and Independence.