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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Future of rail in Missouri could depend on Washington

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Whether you might take the train for holiday travel in the future might well depend on a $200-million request for federal funds. Missouri Transportation Director Pete Rahn says people are being drawn to rail travel for reasons other than saving money on fuel, local media report.

"And I think one of the issues is that as airports and security have made flying just more of a hassle, I think it makes rail traffic more desirable," Rahn says.

Amtrak, though, hasn't been any more desirable in Missouri. Its slow speeds and uncertain schedule with spotty on-time performance has turned off many Missourians who might well be inclined to take the train.

That is, until now. MoDOT has been touting the vastly improved on-time performance of Amtrak between Kansas City and St. Louis due to better cooperation among Union Pacific, Amtrak and MoDOT. Also improvements, such as a new 9,000-foot rail spur in mid-Missouri at California, have helped negotiate freight and passenger rail traffic.

Rahn says even greater improvements must be made to make Amtrak a truly desirable transportation option. Other bottlenecks remain between Kansas City and Jefferson City. A new rail bridge is needed over the Osage River east of Jefferson City to allow more rail traffic. Missouri has applied for slightly more than $201.3 million to completely upgrade the railway, preparing it for the possibility of high-speed rail. MoDOT proposes to use the money to fund 11 rail projects. Competition for the money is expected to be fierce.

"Our application to the Federal Railroad Administration for high-speed rail grants is in Washington. We're hoping to hear by the middle of January," says Rahn. "And we have a request for funding those improvements. So, I'm hopeful."

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