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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Missouri officials dedicate new rail to Amtrak

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For most of its existence, the Amtrak service through the Missouri River Valley has operated on schedule no better than 79 percent of the time, and as low as 55 percent, local media report. Over the past month, Amtrak has been on time on 94 out of a hundred runs, Web site reported.

"That is incredible and that is one of the best corridor performance numbers in the country," Missouri Department of Transportation Director Pete Rahn said.

State officials formally cut the ribbon on a 9,000-foot rail siding running west out of California, Mo.

"This new rail siding has actually been complete for almost a month," MoDOT multimodal operations Bruce Weiler said.

The siding allows Amtrak trains to continue moving while Union Pacific freight trains pass in the opposite direction. Missouri taxpayers spent $5 million on the project. Uncle Sam kicked in $3 million.

"This is an early Christmas present to the state of Missouri and all Amtrak riders," Franklin County Sen. John Griesheimer said.

Amtrak officials said their ridership has exploded. It started when gas prices hit $4.00 and it set all-time records this past Thanksgiving weekend.

"People who've come to Amtrak when the gas prices are high have stayed with Amtrak as the gas prices have come down because they know it's a better way to travel," Amtrak Spokesman Marc Magliari said.

MoDOT has identified a dozen other rail projects, including a second bridge over the Osage River, that could improve schedule performance for both freight and passenger service. The state has applied for federal stimulus funds to finance the wish list.

"The Federal Railroad Administration said they would release it during the winter of 2009-2010," MoDOT Rail Administrator Rod Massman said. "So we're hoping 'winter' is sometime around the first of February."

State officials credit Union Pacific for both its cooperation and its own investment in the Missouri River corridor. The railroad has spent seventeen million dollars on the corridor this year.