MRT Advocates for Reliable Passenger Rail Service at Amtrak Executive Board Meeting

By Jackson Hotaling

December 4, 2022

MRT prepared comments for Amtrak's Executive Board to outline how service cuts are impacting Missourians across the state.

On December 1st at Union Station in St. Louis, Amtrak, the United States' national passenger rail corporation, hosted its first public meeting of the Executive Board since the 1990's. This meeting proved to be an excellent opportunity to learn about proposed improvements for passenger rail in the United States, which aims to undergo a major expansion with Amtrak's Connects Us 2035 Plan.

While MRT primarily focuses on advocating for active transportation improvements for Missourians, we recognize that pedestrians, bicyclists, and car owners alike can benefit through public transportation options that both can offer affordable alternatives to car travel while simultaneously reducing congestion on Missouri's roadways.

You can read our full comments below, which were also acknowledged in an article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch:

Good morning, my name is Jackson Hotaling, and I am a Community Engagement Coordinator with Missourians for Responsible Transportation. MRT is a statewide partnership led by four transportation advocacy organizations (BikeWalkKC in Kansas City, Local Motion in Columbia, Ozark Greenways in Springfield, and Trailnet in St. Louis). We advocate with one voice at the state level for a fiscally responsible, safe, and equitable transportation system.

Missouri’s cross-state Amtrak line, Missouri River Runner, is a state-supported system. The State of Missouri consistently ranks among the lowest for state-supported public transportation funding. Missouri Department of Transportation is currently soliciting input for their high-priority unfunded needs list, and Missouri River Runner service is listed as a statewide unfunded need.

Missouri River Runner service funding has been cut and restored three times in the last two years, cutting East and West twice-daily trips in half, and making the service difficult to rely on for Missourians. Pandemic budget cuts impacted service until service was restored. Then, in January 2021 the Missouri legislature voted not to fully fund Amtrak, again slashing service. Over the summer, service was fully restored, however service is now cut in half again due to national maintenance issues.

We advocate to cement passenger rail as an important component of our transportation system within Missouri, and to make this possible, we hope there are more opportunities for Amtrak to work with and educate MoDOT and our state legislature on the importance and value of passenger rail.

Reliable passenger rail transportation impacts Missourians who rely on the service. Kansas City Public Radio highlighted examples of three Missourians who faced difficulties from the January-July 2022 service cut, which explained how "The reduction in trips and train departure times is causing a headache for many who use the service." The reductions have been particularly difficult for individuals that have limited travel options, causing them to pay for more expensive alternatives such as flights, or to not make the trips altogether.

Missouri's passenger rail system also generates incredible economic benefits, which are not captured with reduced service. In April 2022, MRT drew attention to these economic benefits in comments provided to Missouri Department of Transportation, which solicited comments for Missouri's 2022 State Freight and Rail Plan. The Missouri River Runner alone--not including other long-distance lines operated by Amtrak through Missouri--generates $30 million in labor income, $86 million in economic activity, and $11 million in federal, state & local tax revenue.

In addition to questions about service reliability and future growth of the system, other Missouri-oriented passenger rail advocates also took the initiative to communicate with Amtrak's Executive Board. Notably, the organization Fast Track De Soto is advocating for a passenger rail station for the community of De Soto, Missouri. The group, led by advocate Jim Thomas, shared comments that a passenger rail station in De Soto would "increase tourism in De Soto and to make it easier for residents in the town and nearby areas to use Amtrak." You can learn more about Fast Track De Soto via their website.

We appreciate that Amtrak's Executive Board took the opportunity to meet with the public in St. Louis, and we are grateful for the opportunity to bring attention to the current state of an important part of Missouri's passenger rail network.

_____ also covered information about the public meeting, which is available for review here.
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