Amtrak Restoring Service While Missouri Moves to Limit It
Update: The Missouri Department of Transportation announced that Missouri River Runner service will return to twice daily service beginning Monday July, 19. MoDOT says funding for the two round trips is coming from The State of Missouri and the federal American Federal Rescue Act, and that the funding will keep the two train a day schedule running through the end of 2021.
As Amtrak moves to restore both state supported regional service and long distance trains to pre-pandemic schedules, the Missouri legislature doesn't seem inclined to pay for twice a day service on the Missouri River Runner which stops in Sedalia and Warrensburg on it's route between Kansas City and St. Louis.
Over the course of the next three weeks Amtrak is restoring most of it's long distance trains to daily service. This week the Texas Eagle, which stops in St. Louis between Chicago and San Antonio / Los Angeles goes back to daily service. Next week the Southwest Chief, which stops in Kansas City on it's route between Chicago and Los Angeles, begins daily service.
“Offering daily long distance service represents a vital step in our road to recovery,” said Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn in a news release. “Recognizing the immense value of our employees, we’d like to thank Congress for enabling service restoration and helping us recall furloughed employees.”
Both the Chicago Sun Times and Chicago Tribune report that Amtrak is restoring many of the state supported routes out of Chicago including Michigan Service, Chicago to Milwaukee service, and three separate lines: Chicago - Carbondale, Chicago - Quincy, and Chicago - St. Louis by the middle of July. The tribune noted that service between Kansas City - St. Louis is one of two routes Amtrak will not restore to pre-pandemic levels at this time.
It might be because the Missouri legislature doesn't seem interested in supporting passenger rail for Missouri residents. Ridership in 2019 and 2020 were down, however, that was due to flooding which disrupted service in 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. This according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The Post-Dispatch also says the Missouri Department of Transportation is fighting for restoration of the Missouri River Runner's two trips a day. They quote MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna:
As the transportation agency, MoDOT supports all mobility options for travelers and supports two trains per day, thus giving a round-trip option between Kansas City and St. Louis. State-sponsored Amtrak service in Missouri, like in other states, is subject to legislative appropriation and gubernatorial approval. As the budget is discussed, MoDOT will continue to provide information to the Legislature on the value of this transportation option for Missourians.
The Missouri House Conference Committee on Budget only allocated just under ten million dollars for the River Runner Trains and contained language that limited service to once daily. The Missouri Times reports the Committee removed that language so federal pandemic funds could be used to fund a second train.
Amtrak Spokesman Marc Magliari told me that the railroad has to wait and see what the Missouri legislature and the Missouri Department of Transportation decides regarding River Runner service funding. If the River Runner does go back to two trains a day, it looks like that's something that would most likely happen in late August.
One train a day between Kansas City and St. Louis just doesn't live up to the potential this route can have. There's lots of potential for the Missouri River Runner. College kids in St. Louis, Kansas City or UCM using it to go home for the weekend. Family day trips to Kansas City or St. Louis. Day trips for city folks to visit our fine towns of Warrensburg or Sedalia. People conducting business in Jeff City. People embarking on longer train journeys who want to start their trip from home vs. Kansas City or St. Louis.
A lot of this is impossible to do with one trip a day. I hope the Missouri legislature does the right thing and funds that second train.