Senate and House budget negotiators will have to decide the fate of Amtrak in Missouri. But one state transportation official believes a few change will make the rail passenger service much more popular here.

Missouri Department of Transportation Multimodal Operations Director, Brian Weiler, deals with transportation issues other than highways. Weiler acknowledges Amtrak becomes an easy political target, because its performance has suffered over the years. That is in contrast with other states, which have experienced an increase in passenger train rider ship. Weiler points out that Illinois has seen an increase in Amtrak’s popularity.

Part of that Illinois rider ship comes from the Anne Rutledge, which travels from Kansas City through St. Louis, onto Chicago. The Missouri Mule travels back-and-forth between Kansas City and St. Louis on Union Pacific tracks. That is the big problem. Union Pacific controls the rails and can disrupt passenger service. Amtrak trains were delayed numerous times last year, not only by freight trains, but by rail construction. MODOT actually loaded Amtrak passengers in buses to transport them around construction projects. Weiler says that didn’t prove very popular and MODOT has ended the practice.

Weiler says Missouri has about 175,000 Amtrak riders annually. He speculates that could increase to 250,000 if on-time performance and reliability could be improved. Weiler says MODOT is waiting on a University of Missouri study on how best to relieve congestion. Consideration has even been given to extending Amtrak between St. Louis and Springfield.

Members of the House stripped Amtrak of all its state subsidy, except for the $1.1 million dollars in designated funding. The Senate has restored the funding. House and Senate negotiators will consider its budget next week prior to approval of the final budget, which must be approved by the legislature by Friday, May 11 th . The total state subsidy for Amtrak, including the designated funding, is around $7.5 million. 

Download/listen Brent Martin reports (:60 MP3)