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Monday, December 14, 2009

MoDOT looking for more improvements for Amtrak

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An improvement in mid-Missouri has greatly improved Amtrak service across the state. Now, the Department of Transportation wants to go farther and faster with passenger rail service, local media report. A new 9,000-foot rail siding at California, Mo., allows Union Pacific freight trains to get out of the way of Amtrak traveling between Kansas City and Jefferson City.

"This is the first step toward hopefully getting faster trains," Brian Weiler, Missouri Department of Transportation Multimodal Operations Director, tells the Missourinet.

Weiler says the $8-million project allows transportation officials to dream.

"But in the past, the bottlenecks were still there and the on-time performance was so bad the idea of increasing the speed wasn't realistic," according to Weiler.

Vast improvement of Amtrak service in Missouri, once considerable laughable, could now be within reach. MoDOT has its eye on $201.3 million in track improvements and other improvements between Kansas City and St. Louis. The Missouri Transportation Commission has applied for federal economic recovery funds. The Federal Railroad Administration announced earlier this year that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has made billions available through High-Speed/intercity Passenger Rail grants. Weiler says that so far, 40 states have requested $103 billion, nearly 12 times the amount available.

Weiler says the spur at California cleared one bottleneck.

"So, having this in place, we will see direct benefits to on-time performance," says Weiler, "and it will also improve the flow of freight traffic. And freight traffic is good. That means our economy is moving."

Weiler acknowledges that some of the improvement in Amtrak service, particularly its on-time performance can be attributed to a decrease in freight traffic due the economic downturn. Freight will pick-up as the economy does, making it more difficult to keep up the current impressive on-time performances.

MoDOT hopes it succeeds in securing the federal funds to eliminate bottlenecks and allow passenger trains to move faster. In its application for federal money, the state has listed 11 projects it asserts will improve the flow of passenger trains between Kansas City and St. Louis and allow those trains to move faster. The costliest project totals $56.6 million. It would complete double track and signal upgrades between Lee's Summit and Pleasant Hill, which would allow Amtrak trains to run from 79 to 90 miles per hour. The state is also asking for $50 million to buy two new sets of locomotives and passenger equipment for use on the St. Louis to Kansas City route, an application made along with Wisconsin. A $33.8 million project would eliminate one of the biggest bottlenecks on the route, the single-track bridge that spans the Osage River east of Jefferson City, by constructing a second bridge and adding crossovers.

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