Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner’

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.

Warrensburg Waiting Room Closed, Boarding Procedures Changed at Washington Union Station

May 6, 2020

The waiting room of the Amtrak station in Warrensburg, Missouri, has been closed.

Missouri River Runner trains will continue to stop at the station and the boarding platform remains accessible.

Passengers and those waiting on them are asked to wait in a personal vehicle for their train rather than waiting outside.

In a related development, Amtrak has changed boarding procedures at Washington Union Station in an effort to promote social distancing.

Priority boarding has been discontinued and boarding times have been adjusted to avoid lines and waiting in the station.

Passengers without checked baggage are advised to be at the station no more than 30 minutes prior to departure.

Those with checked baggage should arrive no more than 60 minutes before their train’s scheduled departure.

Passenger boarding will begin 20 minutes prior to departure.

Amtrak also said that effective May 10, Wilmington’s Joseph R. Biden, Jr., station will reduce the number of entrances and have modified station hours.

The only open station entrance will be at the corner of French and Front Streets.

Facial coverings will be required when inside the station as mandated by Delaware State Ordinance.

The Wilmington station will be closed between midnight and 5:45 a.m. to all non-Amtrak personnel, in order to clean and disinfect for our riders and employees.

Amtrak also said that the Faber store will be closed and restrooms will be closed to the public.

The SEPTA/DART ticket office will be closed closed and passengers must purchase tickets purchased on the train.

Only ticketed passengers, or those wishing to purchase tickets, are permitted inside the station. SEPTA passengers needing to purchase a ticket can come into the station approximately 15 minutes prior to train departure.

Amtrak Trims More Service, Brightline Suspended

March 26, 2020

Additional Amtrak service reductions have been announced and Florida intercity rail passenger operator Brightline has suspended all service.

The latest Amtrak cancellations include reducing the level of service of Missouri River Runner service effective March 30

The two daily roundtrips between St. Louis and Kansas City will be cut to one with trains leaving Kansas City at 8:15 a.m. and St. Louis at 4 p.m.

The St. Louis-Kansas City corridor was the last in the Midwest to be unaffected by the COVID pandemic-induced service reductions.

Effective today Vermont Gov. Phil Scott has ordered all Amtrak in that state to be suspended.

The Vermonter, which normally operates between Washington and St. Albans, Vermont, will not operate north of New Haven, Connecticut.

On its reduced schedule, the Vermonter will not operate on Sundays.

The Ethan Allen Express, which normally operates between New York and Rutland, Vermont, will not operate north of Albany-Rensselaer, New York.

Scott said he took the action after consulting with Amtrak. He also issued a stay-at-home order for residents of his state and directed the closure of in-person, nonessential businesses in order to minimize unnecessary activities outside of homes.

In Florida, Brightline, which is owned by Virgin Trains USA, laid off 250 of its more than 300 South Florida workers this week.

Brightline said on Wednesday that it was suspending all service in the wake of the pandemic.

The layoffs included Bob O’Malley, vice president of corporate development.

In a statement, Brightline said it hoped to rehire most of its workers once service resumes, but said it could not say when that might be.

A report in the Miami Herald said more than 700 construction workers on a project to extend Brightline track to Orlando remain employed.

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.

UP Derailment Leads to Amtrak Cancellations

March 2, 2020

A Union Pacific derailment on Friday evening prompted cancellations of Missouri River Runner Service on Saturday and delays on Sunday.

The derailment occurred near Smithton, Missouri, and blocked a portion of Route 50.

Alternative bus transportation was provided in lieu of the canceled trains.

Amtrak Tweeted on Sunday that is trains were being by 30 minutes to more than an hour due to signal issues and freight train interference.

 

Debt to Amtrak Could Endanger Missouri Service

January 28, 2020

Missouri is in arrears in paying its bills to Amtrak and that might threaten the of the state-funded Missouri River Runner service between St. Louis and Kansas City.

Speaking at a hearing of the House Budget Committee, Missouri Department of Transportation Director Patrick McKenna said the state owes Amtrak $6.5 million in unpaid bills plus $11.65 million to pay for a contract to run the service this year.

McKenna said that although Amtrak has not yet threatened to stop operating the trains, it has begun charging 12 percent interest on what the state owes.

He said the interest charges are part of the passenger carrier’s efforts to break even or turn a profit.

McKenna said that the legislature has since 2010 appropriated less than what Amtrak’s contract with MoDOT calls for the state to pay.

He described the situation as an embarrassment that eventually will put the River Runners in danger of being discontinued.

Legislators have approved $9.1 million to pay the contract since 2017 and MoDOT is seeking the same amount this year.

However, the contract’s cost has risen along with operating costs and inflation from $10.6 million in 2017 to $12 million.

McKenna said MoDOT payments to Amtrak are currently being applied against unpaid debt with the remainder going toward the current contract.

He said that has been enough to cover three months of service this year.

MoDOT wants lawmakers to approve an additional $12.2 million on top of the core funding of $9.1 million in order to pay off debts to Amtrak and cover the gaps in 2020 and 2021.

MoDOT’s contract with Amtrak calls for twice daily service between St. Louis and Kansas City with eight intermediate stops.

Missouri is also served by the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief at Kansas City and the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle at St. Louis.

One Missouri legislature has suggested that rather than increase the appropriation to pay Amtrak the state should consider ending paying for the service altogether.

Rep. Dirk Deaton said he recognized the River Runners serve several communities that support them, but instead of the state paying the full cost of the trains those communities should look chipping in funding as well.

Deaton said money the state is paying Amtrak comes from the General Fund, which is also used to pay for schools, roads and bridges.

He described the budget process as the setting of priorities and suggested Amtrak might not be as high a priority to the state.

Deaton noted that Missouri is taking on $300 million in debt by selling bonds to fund bridge repairs, something he said is a critical need.

Reps. Aaron Griesheimer and Deb Lavender, who represent cities served by the trains, said Amtrak service is important for tourism in the area.

Lavender said a cottage industry has arisen around people traveling from Kirkwood to Washington and Hermann to drink wine.

Griesheimer said his constituents have a passion for the service and expressed hope the legislature would approve money to pay off the debt.

If Missouri stops funding Amtrak service it might be on the hook for paying back part of the $50 million in federal funding for station improvements it has received since 2014.

McKenna said the state would have to pay back $36 million, the prorated portion of those funds.

Ridership of the Missouri River Runners was 154,417 in fiscal year 2019, which ended last September.

Although that was a decline of 8.9 percent compared with FY 2018, much of that was due to the service being suspended in May and June 2019 when Union Pacific freight traffic on the line increased due to flooding that shut down UP routes elsewhere in the Midwest.

Deaton pointed out that the state’s per-rider cost of operating the service has increased from $48 in 2014 to $53 this year.

That would increase to $124 if MoDOT pays off its debut in one year and $70 if the state paid its full contract.

He said fares between Kansas City to St. Louis range from $36 to $87 so the state is paying more for each ride than many passengers paid for their tickets.

McKenna acknowledged that Missouri subsidizes the service and that will be a central issue as legislators ponder how much state money to spend on Amtrak.

Although Amtrak sets ticket prices, McKenna said MoDOT has input on it.

He said Amtrak has increased fares in recent years but tries to balance making as much money per ride as possible while not pricing out so many people the service becomes less useful.

Boulder Strikes Missouri River Runner Train

January 22, 2020

A boulder struck a Missouri River Runner train between Washington and Hermann, Missouri, last Friday, forcing the train to return to St. Louis.

No serious injuries were reported in the incident involving Train 313 en route to Kansas City with 145 passengers aboard.

Amtrak said one passenger was treated for smoke inhalation.

The boulder hit a passenger car on the roof right above a restroom and electrical cabinet.

“It shook the car,” said Rita Holmes-Bobo, a passenger from Kansas City who was sitting nearby. “It hit very hard.

The train stopped in Hermann where it was inspected and soon departed,

But after the electrical cabinet began smoking the train halted in Morrison, Missouri, east of the regularly scheduled stop in Jefferson City. The train later wastowed back to St. Louis.

Passengers were returned to their original boarding station. An Amtrak spokesman told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that those asking for accommodations and alternative transportation received them.

Holmes-Bobo told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that there was much confusion about alternative transportation.

At one point she said passengers were told the buses would meet them in Jefferson City. That was later changed to Hermann.

She said many passengers in the damaged car wound up standing all the way back to St. Louis in a different car.

“Every mode of transportation is going to have issues, but how you treat the passengers and communicate with them was lacking with Amtrak,” Holmes-Bobo said.

Another news report said the train sat in Morrison for three hours with one passenger Tweeting that there was no heat and one car was filled with smoke.

By the time the train reached St. Louis is was 12:30 a.m.

BOGO Tickets Being Offered from Jefferson City

January 8, 2020

In cooperation with the Missouri Department of Transportation Amtrak is offering a buy one, get one fare sale for travel to and from Jefferson City, Missouri.

For each adult coach ticket purchased through Feb. 29 using discount code V716, a second adult traveling on the same itinerary can travel free of charge aboard one of the Missouri River Runner trains.

The offer is valid for adult coach seats only and no additional discounts can be applied.

All sales are final and no upgrade to business class is permitted.

Exchanges are permitted within the ticket validity period subject to a 25 percent cancellation fee. For more information, including other terms and conditions, visit Amtrak.com.

Amtrak said in a news release that the BOGO tickets are to thank the community for its patience while local, state and Amtrak officials worked to provide a temporary station after the regular station was closed to due to structural defects.

The temporary station is located along the boarding platform a half-block west of the regular Amtrak station, which closed last October.

The Missouri River Runner trains are funded by MoDOT. Trains 311, 313, 314 and 316 operate daily between St. Louis and Kansas City.