The Amtrak route between St. Louis and Kansas City, which makes a stop in Washington, is expected to keep running with a new payment and service level agreement.
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told The Missourian Wednesday morning that recent media reports about the service being in jeopardy have been overblown.
Amtrak operates the route under a contract with the state, which is subject to legislative appropriation each year.
“We have every reason to believe we will continue our current level of service and we look forward to growing the network in Missouri,” Magliari said.
The route in question is the Missouri River Runner which has two eastbound and two westbound trains daily.
Magliari said effective Oct. 1 Amtrak won’t be able to use its federal operating grant to help share the cost of routes that are shorter than 750 miles with states, due to the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, which Congress passed in 2008.
“Since Congress passed this act, which essentially says the states we service have to pick up more of the costs, we’ve been working on a new costing formula,” he said. “It took about two years to get the formula and since then we’ve been working with the states on every piece of the service.”
Amtrak has service in more than a dozen states, said Magliari, who believes it’s the approaching deadline that is causing people to panic about the service ending.
“We are continuing to meet with states and have not come across a situation yet that service has been stopped,” he said. “The starting point in the negotiations is maintaining the current level of service.”
Washington Tourism Director Mary Beth Rettke said she’s been confused by the recent media reports because it’s contrary to everything they’ve been hearing from the Missouri Department of Transportation.
“Ridership is continuing to increase and at all of our recent transportation meetings it’s been very positive about state funding,” Rettke told The Missourian. “The railroad lobbyists also have been very positive.”
Rettke said the Amtrak stop in Washington is very important to the community.
“The Washington stop’s increase is actually much higher than other stops along the line,” she noted.
Ticket sales don’t cover half the expenses for the twice-daily train, which costs about $9,600 to operate one way. The Missouri Department of Transportation has been providing about $8.5 million a year to help pay for the route.
The state is past due its payments to Amtrak, and owes it more than $2 million, plus $8.5 million for this year, according to the reports.
Magliari declined to get into exact numbers, but noted the state’s fiscal year runs June 1 through July 31, while Amtrak operates under an Oct. 1 through Sept. 30 budget year so the state has to estimate its payments in January and the estimates have fallen short of actual costs.
The good news, Rettke said, is that both ridership and ticket revenue are up.
Ridership on the Missouri River Runner was up 1 percent from March 2012 to 19,946 passengers in March 2013. For the six months ended March 31, ridership was up 2 percent compared with the prior-year period, to 93,571 passengers.
For the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, ridership on the route increased a record 5 percent to 195,885, while ticket revenue for the route increased 8 percent to $5.1 million.