From the Washington, Mo., Missourian
Amtrak's Future Main Topic at Hearing 10/06/2004 Passenger rail service is tied closely to the history of Franklin County and should be enhanced, Mayor Dick Stratman told a General Assembly Joint Interim Committee on Multimodal Transportation Tuesday at city hall. The committee, chaired by State Sen. John Griesheimer, Washington, has been holding hearings across the state on multimodal transportation. Mayor Stratman told of the benefits to Washington from Amtrak passenger service, noting that it is vital to the economy of the downtown section. He said more needs to be done to promote Amtrak so more people would get used to traveling by rail. Building ridership was stressed by the mayor. On another point, he said he believes that consideration should be given to a cost-sharing program, with communities helping to subsidize the service. He told The Missourian that communities may not be able to provide much financial help, but any contribution would show the state that the service is needed. State Rep. Kevin Threlkeld, Washington, a member of the committee, has been exploring cost-charing. He believes the current last-minute funding to keep Amtrak going every year is reaching a limit. State Sen. Michael Gibbons may have set the tone for the Washington hearing when he said the state and General Assembly "can't keep going on the track we've been on--we're in a holding pattern." He was referring to last-minute appropriations to subsidize Amtrak every year. "We need long term vision on this. We need to consider all issues and build a case . . . it's essential to enhance other modes of transportation . . . to move people and products . . . we need to find the best way to get there." At a hearing in Kirkwood Monday, Rep. David Pearce, Warrensburg, vice chairman of the committee, said the panel is looking for ways to help Amtrak better use Missouri tax dollars. The committee will make recommendations to the General Assembly on how to establish public/private partnerships with railroads to complete infrastructure improvements that will reduce track congestion and improve on-time performance of trains. The committee also is looking at ways to reduce Amtrak dependence on state general revenue by increasing efficiencies, exploring dedicated funding sources and establishing community support requirements. Representatives of the Washington Area Chamber of Commerce and the tourism commission attended the hearing, along with private citizens and other city officials. Also providing testimony Tuesday morning were Mike Payette, Union Pacific Railroad, and Brian Weiler, Missouri Department of Transportation. Missouri will provide $6.2 million in fundinjg to Amtrak this fiscal year. Amtrak provides twice daily rail passenger service from St. Louis to Kansas City. There are eight stops along the route. More than 20,000 passengers a year board and leave trains at the Washington stop. Conflicting reports were given on ridership in the state last year. The committee was told there was a drop in ridership the past year. The low figure mentioned was 167,000 riders with the high being about 400,000. The latter apparently includes those passengers who use the St. Louis to Chicago service. There was considerable discussion on the economic and transportation impacts if barge transportation is eliminated. Another topic was on the need for a "double track" all the way from St. Louis to Kansas City. There is only a single track for a section between Jefferson City and Kansas City.' Sheila Steelman, community development director for Pacific, was the first to testify Tuesday morning. Pacific is not an Amtrak stop now. She urged that Amtrak consider making a regular stop there.
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