We appreciate Rep. Aaron Griesheimer, R-Washington, pushing back on proposed cuts to Amtrak funding in the Missouri Legislature.
If forward-thinking lawmakers don’t get in this fight, the number of trains operating between Kansas City and St. Louis could be permanently reduced to just one round trip per day from two round trips per day.
This would be a really shortsighted move at a time when people are starting to travel again as the economy opens back up, as more COVID-19 vaccines are available and as President Biden touts an infrastructure bill that promises billions for Amtrak upgrades and expansion.
Now is not the time to pinch pennies on Amtrak. But that is what Gov. Mike Parson’s budget does. MoDOT requested $23 million to fully fund the service this year, but Parson agreed to spend $9.8 million.
Slashing Amtrak funding is a regular occurrence in Jefferson City. Governors and lawmakers have been doing it for years, causing Amtrak supporters like Griesheimer, and his father before him, to lobby fellow lawmakers to keep the trains rolling.
We’re glad they are supporters. Washington needs the Missouri River Runner, the train that carries passengers 283 miles across the state’s midsection, with stops here and in eight other communities, including Kirkwood, Hermann and Jefferson City.
Amtrak is good for local tourism and our economy. It brings people to our community to eat and shop. People like the trains, and they use them. In 2019, 12,917 passengers boarded the train at Washington, according to data provided by Amtrak.
In 2018, the number of passengers was 15,890, which ranked the station as the seventh-busiest train station in Missouri, leading Arcadia, Independence, La Plata, Poplar Bluff, Sedalia and Warrensburg.
According to an economic impact study released this year by the Missouri Department of Transportation, the Missouri River Runner annually generates more than $208 million in economic activity statewide and creates 1,250 jobs.
Passengers on the River Runner spend an estimated $12.8 million in hotels and an additional $25.3 million in food and sightseeing costs each year. This economic activity contributes to an estimated $11 million in federal, state and local tax revenue, according to the study.
Plus, the River Runner ranks high in customer satisfaction. Of 46 routes nationwide, the River Runner was ranked 11th best among nationwide routes in 2019 for comfort, on-time performance, food and other amenities.
We hope lawmakers consider all of these things when they vote on a final budget. They need to look at the big picture. Before the pandemic struck, Amtrak broke ridership records across the country. MoDOT is right when it argues train travel is poised to make a comeback.
Amtrak is important to Washington and the state. We need to keep the trains rolling.