Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner’

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.

Temporary Jefferson City Station Now Open

January 2, 2020

A temporary Amtrak station has opened in Jefferson City, Missouri.

The station is a trailer located in the visitor parking area of a state-owned parking lot.

Amtrak had been using the Union Hotel as its waiting room, but that building was closed last fall after an inspection of the 19th century structure found serious structural problems.

The trailer was donated by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and is located near the former Amtrak station.

The hotel is part of the Jefferson Landing State Historical Site and is owned by the Missouri Office of Administration, which also owns the parking lot where the trailer is located.

In the meantime, the state is conducting studies to determine how to shore up the old hotel building.

Tiffany Patterson, director of the Missouri State Museum and Jefferson Landing State Historic Site, said an engineering firm is conducting a short-term study as well as a long-term study of how to do that.

The primary concern is the hotel’s north wall of the hotel, which has developed a bulge.

Jefferson City is served by four daily Missouri River Runner trains between St. Louis and Kansas City that are funded by the Missouri Department of Transportation.

After the Union Hotel was ordered closed, Amtrak passengers had been waiting for their trains beneath an outdoor tent and using portable restrooms brought to the site.

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.

Buses to Replace Missouri Trains on Sept. 9

September 7, 2019

Union Pacific track work will result in Missouri River Runner passengers riding the bus on Sept. 9 between Hermann, Missouri, and Kansas City.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said Trains 311 and 313 will operate from St. Louis to Herman with Buses 3111 and 3113 continuing on to the missed station stops of Jefferson City, Sedalia, Warrensburg, Lee’s Summit and Independence.

The service advisory said the buses may operate later than the train schedules.

Trains 314 and 316 will originate in Hermann with passengers riding Buses 3314 and 3116 from Kansas City and making the intermediate stops at Independence, Lee’s Summit, Warrensburg, Sedalia and Jefferson City.

The buses will depart earlier from Kansas City, but Amtrak did not say how early.

Flooding Took Toll on River Runners Ridership

July 5, 2019

The flooding that led to Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner trains being canceled in spring and early summer contributed to lower ridership as a result.

Excluding June, ridership in fiscal year 2019 has been 147,209 passengers compared with 156,867 for the same period in 2018.

Revenue for March through May 2019 was $1.168 million, compared with $1.441 million in 2018.

Bryan Ross, the railroad operations manager for the Missouri Department of Transportation, said ridership numbers are not where the agency wants them to be.

“In April, just after we got back into service after another stretch of days where we couldn’t run due to flooding, we had 13,022 people ride the trains, which was slightly up from April 2018 when there were 12,947 riders,” Ross said. “We’re feeling confident that with dryer months coming, ridership will come back.”

Ross said a contract with Amtrak for fiscal year 2020 shows slightly lower expenses due to lower maintenance costs on passenger cars and locomotives.

The Missouri legislature has approved $9.1 million for passenger trains funding although MoDOT had sought $16.6 million.

Ross said his agency agreed to allow buses to replace the trains after flooding increased freight traffic on the Union Pacific route between St. Louis and Kansas City.

MoDOT and Amtrak officials feared the River Runners would incur delays of four to six hours, which he said is not a safe condition for passengers to be waiting on a train.

“That’s when we go to bus service,” he said.

In the meantime, Ross said Amtrak continues to refurbish the cars used in Midwest corridor service by giving them new paint, upholstery and carpeting.

That work is expected to be completed by mid-February 2020.

“Amtrak has 80 passenger cars in their Midwest fleet, and Missouri pools with other Midwest states to use those cars,” Ross said. “As those cars get refreshed, they cycle into our system.”

Amtrak typically assigns six cars to each Missouri River Runner train.

New passenger cars for Midwest service are being built and may go into revenue service by summer 2020.

Missouri River Runners Reinstated

June 15, 2019

Amtrak planned to restore full operate of its Missouri River Runner trains this weekend.

The carrier began restoring service on Thursday when it resumed operating Nos. 311 and 314.

Nos. 313 and 316 will be restored today, June 15.

The four trains had been suspended on May 22 after flooding in the Midwest and South led host railroad Union Pacific to increase freight traffic on the route used by the River Runners.

The trains are funded by the Missouri Department of Transportation.

Suspension of Missouri Trains Extended to June 12

June 7, 2019

Amtrak on Thursday extended the suspension of its Missouri River Runner trains by another two days through June 12.

Affected are trains 311, 313, 314 and 316 between St. Louis and Kansas City.

Displaced passengers are being transported by chartered buses to all stations served by the trains.

The suspension began  on May 22 when host railroad Union Pacific increased freight traffic on the line due to flooding elsewhere on its system in the Midwest and South.

In the meantime, UP said Thursday that is has reopened its route between Chicago and Texas that is used in part by Amtrak’s Texas Eagle.

The Eagle has been suspended for the past week between St. Louis and Fort Worth, Texas.

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.