CHICAGO and JEFFERSON CITY - Reliability of Kansas City to St. Louis trains operated by Amtrak for the Missouri Department of Transportation can improve, thanks to $5 million provided by the Missouri state legislature and approved by Gov. Matt Blunt to increase track capacity on the route. The Missouri Mules (Trains 311, 313, 314 & 316) provide twice-daily round trips across the state and have been plagued by lengthy delays due to heavy freight traffic on the Union Pacific Railroad line.
"This is great news for Missouri," said MoDOT Director Pete Rahn. "This funding will lead to improved service, helping make Amtrak trains an even better travel alternative."
New track extensions, called sidings, will reduce bottlenecks between Kansas City and Jefferson City in west central Missouri. These parallel tracks can allow trains to pass each other without having to stop. In addition to the state appropriation, MoDOT is seeking an additional $5 million in federal matching funding from a new Federal Railroad Administration program.
"This marks a major change in Missouri's approach to passenger rail," Rahn added. "State-supported Amtrak service has been running between Kansas City and St. Louis since 1979 and each year legislators have budgeted only enough money to operate the trains; nothing to build improvements. This capital improvement funding shows a new level of commitment by our legislators to Amtrak service."
Missouri Senate Leader Mike Gibbons was instrumental in the legislative push to provide the additional funding.
"As gas prices continue to rise, Missourians need and deserve a reliable and affordable alternate mode of travel," he said. "This funding allows trains to pass without delay, relieves congestion and will improve on-time performance of passenger rail, meaning it will be a real option for travelers."
Improvements on the line could not be occurring at a better time. Ridership between Kansas City and St. Louis increased sharply in April and May, compared to the same period last year.
"Much of this route is a single set of tracks and Amtrak trains share the limited capacity with numerous freight trains," said Michael Franke, Amtrak Assistant Vice President - State Partnerships. "Investments in infrastructure have been sorely needed for passenger trains to operate more reliably between St. Louis and Kansas City.
"This capital funding is an important first step in addressing the capacity of this heavily-used corridor and such investments in the infrastructure will ultimately lead to improvements in train performance," Franke added.
A study of chokepoints on the route was completed in 2007 by the University of Missouri-Columbia and siding construction and extensions were found to have the most immediate prospect for service improvements.
"This study forms the basis of discussions with Union Pacific Railroad as to how the project will be implemented, and discussions with the railroad on how the project will take shape will begin in the next few weeks," said Brian Weiler, MoDOT Director of Multimodal Operations. "These improvements will also complement Union Pacific's own improvements near the chokepoints at the Gasconade and Osage rivers."