Posts Tagged ‘Missouri Department of Transportation’

Missouri River Runner Service to Increase

June 4, 2021

The State of Missouri of Missouri will use pandemic relief funding to help pay for restoration of a second Missouri River Runner roundtrip between St. Louis and Kansas City.

The additional service will begin on July 19 and bring the corridor up to pre-COVID-19 pandemic service levels.

State officials said the second roundtrip will operation for the remainder of 2021.

“We appreciate the General Assembly and Gov. [Mike] Parson providing necessary resources for the Amtrak Missouri River Runner service in the state’s budget as well as the additional COVID relief funds enabling us to restore this important transportation service to Missourians,” Missouri Department of Transportation Director Patrick McKenna said in a statement.

McKenna said his agency will review in the fall whether the federal transportation budget will enable the state to continue to support two daily round-trip service.

McKenna said his agency will review in the fall whether the federal transportation budget will enable the state to continue to support two daily round-trip service.

The second roundtrip was suspended in March 2020. Even before that had occurred, Missouri legislators had been debating whether to cut the state’s Amtrak funding to support just a single daily roundtrip.

A provision in the state budget bill mandating single daily ser ice was removed by the Missouri Senate so that MoDOT and Amtrak could begin discussions about a restoration of double daily service.

Missouri Legislative Committee Cuts Funding For Amtrak Service

April 1, 2021

A Missouri legislative committee has approved reducing the state’s funding of Amtrak service between St. Louis and Kansas City.

The action by the Missouri House of Representatives’ Budget Committee approved $9.85 million to support one daily roundtrip. Two daily roundtrips would cost at least $12.65 million.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began last spring service on the route has been one daily roundtrip.

Even before the pandemic, some Missouri lawmakers had been pushing to cut funding to support just one roundtrip a day.

Missouri Department of Transportation officials have said the route carried more than 170,000 passengers a year before the pandemic.

Ridership began falling in 2019 after service was suspended due to flooding.

Financial problems have long shadowed the service, known as the Missouri River Runner.

In 2017, former Gov. Eric Greitens cut $500,000 in funding for the service and since 2010 the state has failed to pay Amtrak its share of the bill and owes an estimated $3 million.

There has been some discussion about not operating the trains on Mondays and Tuesdays so that service could be two roundtrips on weekends.

A MoDOT economic impact study released recently found the trains annually generate more than $208 million in economic activity statewide and create 1,250 jobs.

The study said passengers spend an estimated $12.8 million in hotels and an additional $25.3 million in food and sightseeing costs each year.

This economic activity contributes to an estimated $11 million in federal, state and local tax revenue, according to the study.

More than half (56 percent) of passengers answering a survey said they used Amtrak as a way to visit friends or family.

Thirteen percent of passengers said they were traveling for recreation or leisure travel, and 11 percent say they were using the trains for work or business-related travel.

Other reasons given included vacations (8 percent), personal or family events (6 percent), traveling to or from college or school (5 percent) and shopping, 1 percent.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said Amtrak plans to introduce new Venture coaches to the St. Louis-Kansas City corridor later this year.

He said that if service falls to one daily roundtrip it would six to 12 weeks to work out the logistics of increased service if the state were to decide to fund two daily roundtrips.

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.

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.

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.

River Runners Suspension Extended to June 1

May 30, 2019

The cancellation of Missouri River Runner service between St. Louis and Kansas City has been extended through June 2.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said flooding on the Union Pacific network has diverted some freight traffic to the route used by the River Runners.

In the interim, Amtrak passengers ticketed for trains 311, 313, 314 and 316 are riding chartered buses that are serving all stations.

Amtrak said it and the Missouri Department of Transportation, which funds the trains, are continuing to monitor the situation on a daily basis.

Passengers were urged to check their train’s status at Amtrak.com or on the Amtrak smart phone app.

The buses are adhering as close to the train schedules as possible, but delays may occur.

Missouri River Runner Ridership Down, Revenue Up

April 11, 2019

Ridership of Amtrak’s Missouri River Runners is down in fiscal year 2019 compared to this point in the past fiscal year but the fare box proceeds have been higher.

Missouri Department of Transportation officials said the St. Louis-Kansas City trains have carried 111,891 in FY2019, a drop of 1,400 from this point in FY2018.

Revenue between November 2018 and February 2019 was $3.798 million, up from $3.632 million in FY 2018.

“We were down five percent in the first quarter and only down one percent in the second quarter,” said Bryan Ross, MoDOT railroad operations manager. “We had a good winter. Each month, passenger numbers were up. We were down July through October due primarily to low gas prices and work on the tracks, which led to freight train congestion.”

The top four stations by percentage of ridership were Kansas City, St. Louis, Kirkwood and Jefferson City.

At the latter station, ridership between November and February was 25,491 compared to 25,197 during the same period in 2018.

Ross said equipment assigned to the trains is being refurbished, a process that is expected to be completed in early 2020. The work includes new paint, upholstery and carpeting.

“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.”

Six cars are typically assigned to the River Runners. Ross said new passenger cars are expected to reach the trains by summer 2020.

“Once the cars are manufactured, they have to go through six months of testing before going into service,” he said.

The new cars are expected to offer smoother rides and have new seats and safety measures.

Each car will have lifts to allow people in wheelchairs easier access.

Ross said ridership numbers are not yet available for March when the River Runners were suspended for a while due to an increase in freight traffic on the host railroad Union Pacific.

UP rerouted some traffic to its St. Louis-Kansas City line after flooding of the Missouri River closed some routes in Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa.

During the service suspension, Amtrak provided chartered buses to all River Runner stations.

“It will be interesting to see what those numbers show, but we usually have a very solid customer base,” Ross said.

MoDOT Revives Discounts to Boost Ridership

April 17, 2018

In an effort to boost ridership aboard the Missouri River Runners, the Missouri Department of Transportation is offering free rides for children on select days and 25 percent fare discounts for midweek travel.

The Kids Ride Free offer is available on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Aug. 26 and applies to children ages 2 to 12 who are accompanied by an adult.

The midweek fare sale applies to travel on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and will run through Oct. 31.

Both fare programs are only available online. Passengers must make reservations at least one day in advance.

“One of these is geared toward children, so it’s important to us that we are having children take a chance on the train so that they can build a love for it, hopefully, and decide to be passengers as they grow into adulthood,” said MoDOT Railroad Operations Manager Kristi Jamison.

Jamison said MoDOT offered the same discounts last year and had saw good ridership during the spring and the summer.

“It was very well used, so we were glad to be able to offer that again on the Missouri River Runner,” she said.

Jamison said ridership to and from Jefferson City has been flat. The twice-daily River Runner trains posted ridership of 172,000 in fiscal year 2016 but that fell to 171,000 in FY 2017. In the current fiscal year ridership is up by 2.5 percent and has held steady.

She said track work in 2017 probably depressed ridership because trains often operated late.

The state appropriation for the service in FY 2018 was $9.1 million, but, Gov. Eric Greitens withheld $500,000.

MoDOT is seeking $15.1 million in FY 2019. Jamison said MoDOT has seen cuts in funding from time to time.

Missouri River Runner Ridership up in 2017

April 26, 2017

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.

MoDOT Says Missouri River Runner Service Will Continue Despite Taking a $500,000 Budget Cut

January 18, 2017

The Missouri Department of Transportation has said Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner service between St. Louis and Kansas City will continue to operate at its current level despite a budget cut.

Amtrak Missouri River RunnerMissouri Gov. Eric Greitens in a budget submitted this week announced a $500,000 cut in MoDOT’s budget for rail service as part of a larger $146 million budget reduction.

Missouri funds two roundtrips a day between the Show Me State’s largest cities.

MoDOT is paying Amtrak $9.6 annually to operate the service, which serves 10 stations.

Michelle Teel, director of multimodal programs at the Missouri Department of Transportation said that passengers should see no change in the schedule for the foreseeable future.

The governor’s office said in a news release that most of the budget cuts were aimed at rolling back earmarks, new spending items, programs with no established track record of success, and services that are duplicated elsewhere in government.

The $500,000 cut will be rolled into what MoDOT will owe Amtrak in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Teel said MoDOT will negotiate with Amtrak on how to close the funding gap. One option might be to increase fares.

Missouri River Runner ridership in the past fiscal year, which last June 30 was down 7.3  percent from the previous year. Amtrak said ridership was 172,032.