TransitKC

Kansas City gets passenger rail boost

No, it ain’t light rail, but it’s definitely worth a mention here.

While not the location chosen for the announcement, Kansas City is getting an intercity passenger rail boost on two fronts today.

First, Amtrak’s existing Kansas City-to-St. Louis Missouri River Runner route will get $31 million in upgrades to improve capacity and on-time performance. Even though on-time performance has been running in the 90% range for months, most of the improvement has come from reduced freight traffic and the threat of host railroad penalties made possible by Congressional action.

Two trains run daily — morning and late afternoon — between KC and St. Louis in each direction; annual ridership runs in the 150,000 to 200,000 range. Missouri pays an annual subsidy for operations, as is the case with most of Amtrak’s corridor operations outside of the northeast. There’s no indication the improvements will affect the scheduled 5:40 running time, but the timetable is likely to be revisited in coming years since it contains a lot of padding.

Increasing speeds is definitely a priority, but a third (mid-day) departure would increase the usefulness of the service dramatically. Also, now is a great time for Missouri and Illinois to jointly operate direct service between KC and Chicago (a change of trains is now required, though the once-daily Southwest Chief will probably always be a faster trip). A direct train would make the service more palatable to riders going between Hermann, MO and Alton, IL, for example.

Second, a grassroots effort to extend Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer through Wichita to Kansas City was awarded funding for developing a service plan for the route. This route is not a federally-designated high-speed rail corridor, but is one of most glaring gaps in Amtrak’s route map. Enabling legislation for the service was introduced in the current Kansas legislative session.

KC-bound passengers on both routes would end up at Union Station, terminus for both the proposed regional rail and downtown streetcar systems.

Other big regional winners were the St. Louis-to-Chicago corridor (which will eventually run at 110 mph), Madison-to-Milwaukee (new service), Detroit-to-Chicago, and a service plan for new services in Iowa.

5 comments

Comments are closed.