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Information on threatened ending of Missouri passenger train service.

Missouri:  Holden Zeroes ‘General Revenue’ Passenger Rail Funding

Faced with extreme declines in sales tax and other revenue and a growing lack of other alternatives to cut, Missouri Governor Bob Holden has recommended that the legislature not appropriate money for rail passenger service in his Fiscal Year 2003 budget. 

            Instead, the governor has asked the legislature to fund the cuts from Missouri’s “Rainy Day” fund.  Doing so would require approval by a 2/3 majority in both houses of the legislature and would face a constitutional stipulation that the money be repaid within 3 years.

            There are some cuts that I am unwilling to recommend,” Holden wrote in the January 23 Letter of Budget Transmittal for FY 2003 that he sent the legislature with his budget.“I am calling on the General Assembly to join me in using the state’s rainy day fund to preserve critical services that would have to otherwise be reduced to balance the budget.The rainy day fund was established to give the state extra resources when it most needs them. The time has come to use these funds,” he concluded.

Some legislators and newspapers disagreed with that view, however Holden has put critics on the spot by earmarking the budget reserve for politically popular programs,” the January 27 Kansas City Star noted as it rattled off the budget cuts the Governor wanted to tap the fund for. “If they vote against using the budget reserve, they can be accused of voting against better nursing home inspections. Against help for the mentally ill. Against therapy for autistic and disabled children. Even against Amtrak rail service.”

Somewhat significant, however, is that even though the Star article mentioned the rail passenger cuts once, the article never mentioned them again (ok, not surprising for the Star). It did go on to offer details about each of the other proposed cuts and rationale for the funding.

The ‘Rainy Day’ funding will be difficult to get, because the numbers aren’t good. In a budget bleeding with cuts already, it does not help that the funding would require every person in the state to contribute more than $1.10 toward the funding, while each passenger would receive the benefit of more than $30.27 in state funding, according to calculations that can be made from numbers provided with the Governor’s Letter of Budget Transmittal. According to official state web sites ( and, the state total resident population in Census 2000 was 5,595,211, while ridership on the trains in 2000 was 204,766 and there was a FY 2002 appropriation of $6,200,000 for them.

Still, various groups are trying to get the funding passed, as indicated in the enclosed sample letter that is being distributed in the Washington, Mo., Amtrak station. Missouri residents can get the name and Capitol room number of their state representative and senator by visiting Missouri’s web page or by calling your county’s elections office.

            For a complete look at Governor Holden’s recommended FY 2003 Multimodal Budget, visit


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Letter-to-the-Editor published in St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Amtrak would have lasting effects
This story was published in Editorial on Saturday, February 23, 2002.

While Missouri is making short-term decisions about how to balance its state budget in times of declining
revenue, it is also making long-term decisions about its future transportation network.

In an effort to save $6 million this year, Gov. Bob Holden proposes to eliminate Amtrak service in
Missouri. Funding for highways will continue at a rate of $1.7 billion a year.

This proposal is penny-wise and dollar foolish. If Amtrak service were eliminated, it would likely never
return. That means not just eliminating service now between Kansas City and St. Louis, but forgoing
high-speed rail as well.

For five years, Missouri has been working with Illinois and seven other Midwest states to develop fast,
comfortable and convenient rail service connecting Kansas City and St. Louis with virtually every major
city in the Midwest. Illinois is already spending more than $100 million to reduce travel times between St.
Louis and Chicago. Michigan just began running trains at 90 miles per hour - the first speed increase
anywhere outside the Northeast in more than a generation.

Missouri stands to benefit from these investments through both its current rail service and its eventual
upgrade in frequency and speed.

Rail service won't easily return. Other areas of the country have learned the hard way, spending years
negotiating with private railroads to get back service they once enjoyed.

Regardless of the financial challenge faced by the state, $6 million is a small price to pay to remain vitally
connected to the region's rail network.

Kevin Brubaker,
Environmental Law and Policy Center of the Midwest

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Missouri Train service threatened
The Kansas City Star

WASHINGTON, Mo. - From the balcony of her loft
apartment, overlooking the Missouri River town
where she has lived
nearly all her life, Sandy Lucy can watch the
trains pull in.

They come, dozens each day, mostly freight trains
passing through.
But four times a day a whistle announces an Amtrak
passenger train,
and Lucy perks up.

"There's nothing more soothing than the sound of
the Amtrak
stopping," said Lucy, 46, the co-owner of an art
gallery. "It's the
comforting sound of, `Oh, the train's here; I
wonder who's getting
on or off.' There's a mystique."

Amtrak doesn't bring Lucy just peace of mind. It
brings 20,000
visitors yearly to Washington, a hamlet of
bed-and-breakfasts and
antiques shops 50 miles west of St. Louis. For
urbanites seeking an
escape, a train ride into the town, with its
restored 1920s-era depot,
is like a trip back in time.

Now, however, Amtrak is facing judgment day in
Missouri and
nationwide. Its subsidies are threatened, pressure
for reform is
mounting, and a government oversight panel says
Amtrak's system
is so flawed that it should be broken up.

The panel recommended this month that private
companies could be
a significant improvement over Amtrak.

Congress is due to vote on that recommendation
later this year.
Observers say that, for now, the decision is a

Regardless of that outcome, Amtrak, which carries
more than 22.5
million passengers a year, faces more pressing
problems. Money
troubles at state and federal levels raise the
possibility that service
could cease in Missouri and Kansas by the end of
the year.

After losing $1.1 billion last year, the most in
its troubled 31-year
history, Amtrak called on President Bush to more
than double federal
rail subsidies -- its primary source of funding --
for the fiscal year
beginning in October.

Bush responded with a budget proposal that left
Amtrak funding as
is, at $521 million.

Amtrak has said that without a $700 million
increase, it will cancel 18
money-losing, long-distance routes. Among those on
the chopping
block: the Southwest Chief, a Chicago-Los Angeles
train that stops in
Kansas City and touches six cities across Kansas,
Lawrence, Topeka and Dodge City.

In Missouri, where the state subsidizes the two
daily round-trips
between Kansas City and St. Louis, Gov. Bob Holden
has left $4.8
million in Amtrak funding out of his budget for
the fiscal year
beginning in July. Instead, Holden has proposed a
plan to pay for the
trains, as well as several other programs, by
digging into the state's
financial reserve, the so-called Rainy Day Fund.

Last week Missouri's House committee on
appropriations recommended that most of the Amtrak
money be
reinstated. That set the stage for a battle in the
budget committee.

"It's the first step in a long process," said
state Rep. John
Greisheimer, a Republican.

Still, he put the chances of keeping Amtrak at
less than 50-50.

So worried are city tourism officials in
Washington that they have
posted a notice inside the depot. In bold type, it
reads: "Attention
rail passengers. This could be your last train
ride from Washington

"To say we're concerned is putting it lightly,"
said Cathy Jackson,
Washington tourism director. She urged the House
appropriations committee to restore funding for
the train at hearings
two weeks ago in Jefferson City.

Jackson was not alone. From Missouri's handful of
train towns came
a stream of politicians, tourism officials, hotel
owners and others to
testify that the rail is their lifeline.

Last year Amtrak's Missouri Mules carried 208,000
passengers across
the state's midsection, about the same as in the
previous year. The
route, which opened in 1979, runs mostly south of
Interstate 70
through eight cities, including Sedalia, home of
the state fair;
Hermann, the old German settlement now known for
its Octoberfest;
and Jefferson City.

Most of the well-known complaints about Amtrak --
schedules, frequent delays, rates not much cheaper
than what it
would cost to drive -- are dismissed in
mid-Missouri's train towns. To
people in those towns, Amtrak is a rainmaker,
bringing visitors who
fuel the local economy, and a vital link to big
cities, colleges and the
state capital.

As a result, the state's battle over Amtrak
funding figures to be
drawn along geographical lines.

"If you live along the line, you're a friend of
Amtrak," Greisheimer
said. "If you don't, you aren't."

Greisheimer, a self-described train nut, helped
bring Amtrak to
Washington in 1995 after years of lobbying state
officials. The town greeted the return of
passenger rail with a wave
of investment in historical preservation.

Washington's existing depot, a squat structure
made in red brick to
match neighboring buildings, dated to 1923 and
looked its age. In
1999, thanks to $600,000 in state and city funds,
a full restoration of
the depot was completed.

A railroad heritage park was created next to the
depot at a cost of
$47,000, and $271,000 was spent on a hike-and-bike
originating at the depot.

"The town has spent all that money, and now what?"
asked Gail
DeBourge, a bed-and-breakfast owner.

Tourism officials in Washington -- a $60
round-trip ride from Kansas
City -- said it was difficult to estimate how many
visitors or how much
money the town would lose if Amtrak disappeared.
The real effect
might become clear only in the summer, when the
surrounding wine
country buzzes with weekend festivals and the
trains run with the
most passengers.

What is clear, however, is that day-trippers from
St. Louis and
Jefferson City, seeking a quick and quaint getaway
in Washington,
would lose a popular travel alternative.

"I would hate to see the trains go," said Irma
Schmitz, 66, who
arrived with a friend from Jefferson City last
week for an afternoon of
lunch and shopping for antiques.

"Instead of sitting in traffic on the overcrowded
highways, you can
hop on the train, and just sit back and enjoy the
scenery," she said.

Trains have long been a practical option for older
travelers and
families with young children. But in historic
river towns like
Washington and Hermann, 30 miles to the west,
owners of
restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts trade on the
past. One
brochure from Washington invites tourists to
"tarry along the wide
Missouri's romantic valley."

For entrepreneurs like these, there is no
discounting the romantic
cachet of the train.

"I sell it as a five-hour minivacation," said Kiki
Strecker, who runs the
restaurant Elijah McLean's in an antebellum white
mansion with a
view of the Washington riverfront.

"I know people like the idea of leaving the car
behind," she said.
"There's definitely a high of train travel that
can't compare to other
modes of transportation."

The novelty value, however, does not pay the

Amtrak knows this. Charged by Congress in 1971 to
take over
intercity passenger rail service from private
companies, it has
struggled from the start with underinvestment, the
high cost of
running long-distance routes, and systematic
delays in the many
corridors where it shares tracks with freight

In the months following the Sept. 11 attacks,
Amtrak ridership
remained at roughly the same levels as the
previous year, despite a
7 percent decline in overall travel. But the
railroad continues to incur
a debt whose annual payments are expected to
balloon to $126
million by 2005.

The government oversight panel, the Amtrak Reform
Council, wrote
in its report to Congress that it "believes that
passenger rail service
will never achieve its potential as provided and
managed by Amtrak."

Supporters of a national rail system counter that
the federal
government has never given Amtrak a chance to
succeed. They point
to $24.2 billion in government subsidies to Amtrak
over 31 years,
compared to $110 billion to roads and highways in
just one year.

"No country in this world operates passenger rail
without operating
subsidies," said Amtrak spokeswoman Kathleen
Cantillon. "The
reality is, if you want this train service, you
have to provide the
appropriate level of government funding."

Also at stake in Missouri is the future of
high-speed rail -- the one
segment of Amtrak service, widely used in the
Northeast, that makes
money. For years rail supporters have dreamed of
sleek train service
to connect St. Louis, and later Kansas City, with
Chicago or Detroit at
speeds of 150 mph.

Richard Harnish, executive director of the Midwest
High-Speed Rail
Coalition, said high-speed train service could
help ease the pressure
on Missouri's highways.

"The state really has to look at providing
different transportation
capacity," Harnish said. "To allow these two
trains to go away really,
really sets back any effort to make progress."

The people of Washington, however, are less
concerned with future
advances than with preserving the nostalgia
connected to the
existing trains, whatever their problems.

Lucy, the art gallery co-owner, said the past was
very much alive in
her hometown. When her father left to serve in the
Army in World
War II, he boarded a train at the same depot where
she now begins
her occasional weekend trips to Chicago.

"Is the town going to fold because we lose the
train? Of course not,"
she said. "But it would be a loss of the soul of
an era."



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