What the Priorities of Amtrak’s CEO Means for Missouri Rail
Bill Flynn, Amtrak's CEO has written an open letter to Congress detailing the national passenger railroad's top five priorities. If he gets his way, rail service in Missouri might just get the improvement it deserves.
According to Global Railway Review, Flynn's top priorities for the railroad include: Sufficient funding. A trust fund to provide reliable multi year funding for the railroad,like other modes of surface transportation have. Access to the freight railroads infrastructure for new service and adding train frequency. Enforcement of the law that gives Amtrak preference over freight trains. And allowing Amtrak expansion in corridors of under 500 miles without requiring the states they serve to help fund the expansion of service. And finally adding new routes.
When it comes to funding, Amtrak relies on an appropriation from the Federal Government to run it's services. And a contract with states like Missouri to run corridor services like the Missouri River Runner.
If Congress gives Amtrak COVID-19 relief funding it can sustain and restore operations. Like operating The Texas Eagle and Southwest Chief daily instead of three times a week. It might also restore some of the food service cuts and other amenities that make long distance rail travel enjoyable.
If a rail trust fund is established it will provide Amtrak "reliable, multiyear program funding." This will help Amtrak expand service and pursue multi year capital projects, which is tough for the railroad to do with a year to year appropriation from Congress.
If this happens, expect there to be an order for new equipment that eventually would replace the Superliners on the Texas Eagle and Southwest Chief. Additionally, this funding could add more service between Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City. Theoretically, it could also mean more frequency for the Missouri River Runner trains.
The other key to increasing Missouri River Runner Service or adding new rail service in Missouri is eliminating the cost sharing of corridor rail routes under 500 miles with the states.
At this point the State of Missouri is paying Amtrak to run the Missouri River Runner Service. And they'd need to pay for any other service they want Amtrak to run in the state. Eliminating this requirement would allow Amtrak to add service to existing lines or create new service where there is need without needing Missouri to pay for some, or more realistically, most of the service.
The other priorities are not necessarily Missouri specific, but could certainly impact service in Missouri positively. In most of the country, Amtrak runs on tracks owned by the freight railroads.
For example, the Missouri River Runner runs on tracks owned by Union Pacific. Amtrak needs reasonable access to freight railroads' lines to maintain and increase service. Unfortunately, freight railroads aren't always accommodating in that regard. Especially if it complicates their train schedules. The Federal Government can help change those attitudes if necessary.
And finally, enforcement of the law that gives Amtrak the priority over freight trains. According to Global Railway Review freight train interference is the largest source of delays to Amtrak trains while running on other railroad companies tracks. It's on the books, but some companies tend to ignore the law or apply it only when it's convenient.
The last two points may not seem to make a lot of sense since the freight railroads own the infrastructure. To understand that you need to understand Amtrak's beginnings. Amtrak was created by the government to sustain a national passenger rail network while relieving the railroads from having to run unprofitable passenger trains.
As part of that agreement the railroads had to pay to join Amtrak, and agree to certain stipulations such as letting Amtrak use their lines and provide priority to Amtrak over their freight trains.
If Flynn gets his wish and Congress takes his priorities seriously Missouri could see Amtrak's Southwest Chief and Texas Eagle return to daily service. More frequency for the Missouri River Runner Service, and more service between Chicago and St. Louis. And perhaps more service generally throughout the state. Regardless, Flynn's priorities for Amtrak probably means better rail service in Missouri. And that's a good thing.