Missouri Amtrak service could be cut by March 1

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Unless Missouri comes up with more money by the end of next month, Amtrak plans to eliminate one of its two daily passenger trains between St. Louis and Kansas City.

State transportation officials told lawmakers Tuesday they need $1.2 million -- on top of the $5 million already appropriated -- to continue running both trains through the June 30 end of the fiscal year.

"If we don't get supplemental funding, the train, unfortunately, will cease service after Feb. 28," said Amtrak spokeswoman Kathleen Cantillon.

Under the current schedule, Amtrak trains leave both St. Louis and Kansas City around 7:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., stopping at eight cities in between as they cross paths.

If service were cut, the only options would be an eastbound 7:30 a.m. train from Kansas City and a westbound 3:30 p.m. train from St. Louis.

"If you were to cut back, you could get to St. Louis or you could get to Kansas City for a meeting, but you couldn't get back that same day," said Brian Weiler, director of multimodal operations for the Missouri Department of Transportation.

That would leave Alexis Helm in a bind. The 19-year-old Lincoln University student travels from Jefferson City to Kansas City to visit her family about every other week. She typically takes the evening train, but on Tuesday was returning to school on the morning train.

If Amtrak eliminated one of the trains, "it would be horrible for me, because I wouldn't have as convenient of a way to go home," said Helm, who does not own a car.

Given the pace of the state budget process, it is unlikely that lawmakers will have passed a supplemental appropriation for Amtrak service by Feb. 28. But if the extra money looks likely, Amtrak officials may be willing to negotiate continued service with the state, Cantillon said.

There is no guarantee that lawmakers will provide the extra funds. When drafting the current state budget, they intentionally reduced Amtrak's appropriation to $5 million from the $6.2 million it had received the previous year.

Missouri's Amtrak service has been cut in the past.

In 1995, one of the two Amtrak trains was eliminated for three months because of a lack of funding, Cantillon said, and it took three years to build back up ridership.

State transportation officials are worried about a similar backlash if service were cut this year. If the state were to eliminate one of the trains from March through June, service could be restored when the next budget year begins in July.

Amtrak officials have estimated they would need $8.9 million from Missouri to operate both trains next fiscal year. But Amtrak historically has agreed to operate for less than initially requested.

Both Amtrak and state government are financially strapped, making it difficult for either to bear a heavier burden for operating the trains.

"Missouri's not alone in terms of these new discussions with Amtrak (for states) to pick up more of the cost of operating the service," Cantillon said. "It's happening all over the county."

But Missouri is the only state facing such an immediate cut in service, she said.

If lawmakers don't approve more money, the state would eliminate Amtrak's Missouri Mule trains, which loop between St. Louis and Kansas City. Service would continue on the Ann Rutledge route, which runs daily between Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City.

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On the Net:

Amtrak: http://www.amtrak.com

Missouri Department of Transportation: http://www.modot.state.mo.us

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