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Amtrak service in Missouri could be derailed under latest budget proposal

Amtrak service in Missouri could be derailed under latest budget proposal

Travel Missouri by rail

Amtrak train arrives in Hermann. (Photo courtesy of the Missouri Division of Tourism)

JEFFERSON CITY — Amtrak service between St. Louis and Kansas City could be cut to one round-trip train ride per day under a budget plan outlined in the Missouri House Wednesday.

The decision to provide funding for only one daily round trip, down from two per day, comes as the state has failed to pay what it fully owes to Amtrak to provide the River Runner service dating to 2010.

In January, the Missouri Department of Transportation said the Legislature owes an estimated $6.5 million in unpaid bills to the passenger rail corporation. And, Amtrak can charge 12 percent interest on what it is owed.

Lawmakers and governors have routinely short-changed funding for Amtrak. In 2017, for example, former Gov. Eric Greitens cut $500,000 in funding for the service.

The River Runner carries passengers 283 miles across the state, with stops in eight communities, including Kirkwood, Washington, Hermann and Jefferson City.

In 2018, the route saw about 167,000 riders. That number was down in 2019 due to flood-related track closures.

Under the spending plan recommended to lawmakers by House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith, R-Neosho, the state would set aside $12 million for Amtrak in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Aides said his plan is to pay off the state’s debt to Amtrak.

But, that would only leave enough money to operate one train.

The proposal must first be endorsed by the committee before it heads to the full House for further consideration. From there, it would move to the Senate for further deliberation.

MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna said in January that the state cannot completely stop Amtrak service because it still owes the federal government $36 million for improvements to stations along the line.

The legislation is House Bill 4.

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