addresses MOKSRail group meeting
EDITORS NOTE Only about 20 MOKSRail members attended the last meeting, April 13, 2002.. This report, from April, shows how the Missouri Department of Transportation views passenger rail funding.
Sharon Dashtaki, assistant administrator of railroads for the Missouri Department of Transportation, Jefferson City, updated the group on legislative funding efforts of Missouri's cross-state passenger train service at the Missouri-Kansas Rail Passenger Coalition's Kansas City Union Station April 13 meeting.
Dashtaki addressed the group shortly after the Missouri House of Representatives passed a budget approving $6 million out of the general revenue account. She was pro-passenger rail in her comments.
"We just have to get our legislators to think there's an alternative mode to highways and airports," she told the group. "You've got to contact those legislators. You've got to let them know the importance of rail transportation."
Dashtaki recommended people write not only state lawmakers representing people along the Kansas City to St. Louis corridor, but representatives and senators in outlying areas.
Legislative negotiators from the House and Senate -- which had earlier agreed to $6 million for Kansas City-St. Louis service (passed by the House), late in the session changed it back to $5 million (as passed by the Senate).
Amtrak had said earlier that the lower amount would lead to a reduction in service. Rep. Joan Bray (D- University City.), a great rail supporter and one of the budget negotiators, according to the National Association of Railroad Passengers, said she hoped the state and Amtrak would run both daily round trips as long as the funding lasted, keeping in mind that the state could provide a supplemental appropriation later.
Missouri is still negotiating with Amtrak for next year's service (July 1, 2002 to June 30, 2003), according to Dashtaki.
The news is uncertain. During early June, there was the certainty of one train, and the possibility of a second -- and even a remote possibility of a third train, but it depends on many variables, according to Pete McMasters.
Missouri's Amtrak service is also becoming important for big-city residents such as those in St. Louis and Kirkwood who make short day trips west to Washington, Mo., to enjoy a dinner at one of the community's riverside restaurants.
Of MODOT's 6,000 employees, only 24 work in the state agency's multimodal division, which encompasses rail, transit, waterways and aviation, Dashtaki said. "Everything else is highways," she said. "We can't do very much when we only have 24 people doing four modes of transportation."
On the positive side, Dashtaki said, MODOT is slowly improving its stance towards passenger rail.
"The highway department is changing," she said. "It used to be all-highways (focus). But it is slowly changing."
MODOT has no advertising dollars in its budget to promote the train service, Dashtaki said, "unless the senate comes up with some funding." $125,000 has been invested in radio and TV commercials in the past.
MOKSRail president John Mills recommended the group invest $1,000 of MOKSRail's $2,100 budget in promoting the Missouri service for fiscal year 2003. Members approved the motion.
From the May 10th St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
Panel trims $1 million from cross-state Amtrak service
This story was published in Metro on Friday, May 10, 2002.
By Ken Leiser
Of The Post-Dispatch
Reversing course from a week ago, Missouri legislators have trimmed $1 million from Amtrak service between St. Louis and Kansas City.
A two-house panel negotiating a 2002-03 budget bill reduced the state's payment for the Amtrak service to $5 million late Wednesday. The House had proposed spending $6 million for passenger rail.
"It is a done deal," said state Rep. Joan Bray, D-University City. "I can't imagine anyone is going to fall on their sword over this."
Bray, who sits on the conference committee that oversees transportation spending, tried to salvage the $6 million line item to maintain two round-trips a day between Kansas City and St. Louis.
Amtrak had threatened to cut service if it doesn't get the full $6 million it costs to provide the cross-state service. Amtrak has not decided how it will deal with the latest cut, said spokesman Howard Riefs.
Bray has urged the Missouri Department of Transportation and Amtrak to preserve the two daily round trips and "see how long $5 million will buy us."
It is her hope that Congress increases federal subsidies for the passenger rail service. If not, state legislators could seek a supplemental appropriation toward the end of the 2002-03 budget year, she said.
The train stops at eight communities between Kansas City and St. Louis. Many of them have refurbished train depots and spruced up surrounding streets to spotlight passenger rail.
Some say the trains bring in tourists that help their local economies.
Amtrak carried 208,000 passengers last year on the line connecting St. Louis and Kansas City.
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