Missouri Owes Amtrak for River Runner Contract
The State of Missouri owes Amtrak millions of dollars for operation of the Missouri River Runner service between St. Louis and Kansas City. This according to the News Tribune.
Amtrak operates the 2 daily trains that travel round trip between St. Louis and Kansas City with stops in Sedalia, Warrensburg, and six other Missouri cities under contract with the State.
The paper says since 2010 the Missouri legislature has appropriated less than the price of the contract. A situation that Missouri Department of Transportation Director Patrick McKenna called "an embarrassment" in a House Budget Committee meeting Thursday.
According to the News Tribune:
The state owes Amtrak $6.5 million in unpaid bills, plus the $11.65 million contract to run the service this year. And Amtrak, under directions from Congress to try to break even or turn a profit, started charging 12 percent interest on the state's arrears last year.
MoDOT has convinced the Legislature to appropriate $9.1 million to pay the contract since 2017, and it asked for the same core funding this year. In that time, the contract has risen along with operating costs and inflation from $10.6 million in 2017 to $12 million next year.
This is where some details need to be unpacked. The first is the fallacy that Amtrak is, or will ever be, profitable. If passenger rail was profitable then the freight railroads would still be operating passenger trains. They weren't and they made a deal with the federal government to take over their failing operations.
When created, President Nixon thought Amtrak would fail miserably and he could shut the railroad down in six months or a year. Then the gas crisis came and Amtrak took off. Unfortunately, to save Amtrak, the lie was told that it could be a profitable entity. How this lie has persisted throughout Amtrak's life and many funding fights in Congress I don't know.
One of the ways Amtrak has paid lip service to being profitable is to place some of the burden of funding trains like the Missouri River Runner on the states. In fact, if states don't fund the service, the trains go away. This happened to the three day a week Hoosier State train that ran between Chicago and Indianapolis when the Indiana legislature didn't want to fund it anymore.
The same might very well happen to the Missouri River Runner service if our elected officials don't hear from you or I that the Missouri River Runner service is valuable to our communities.
For those of us in Sedalia or Warrensburg, the trains are actually a great way to get to Kansas City and not have to drive. It's not a bad way to get to St. Louis either. It's certainly a link to the big cities and even the state capital for those who can't drive. Sure, with only two trains a day it's rather limited. You can't really do a functional day trip to either city without staying overnight. That said, it's service, and there are many places in the US that don't even have the service we have.
So I'd urge you to talk to your state representatives and ask them to fund the Missouri River Runner. I'd ask you to talk to your members of Congress and ask them to support and fund Amtrak. If we want more service. Faster more comfortable trains. We need to ask for them. Government agencies dole out significant subsides to take care of our roads and skies, and even subsidize airlines to an extent. Yet, they really don't do that when it comes to Amtrak. Maybe it's time we asked that they do.