P. O. Box 1183, Mission, KS 66202-1183
Just as MOKSRail members worked to prevent discontinuance of the Kansas City- St. Louis trains, members must now work to ensure that Amtrak’s national system continues.
The April 26 appointment of David Gunn as Amtrak’s president and chief executive brought hope to those believing in a national rail passenger system. It also brought another warning that Amtrak may shutdown, not just the long-distance trains, but also the entire system, if it didn’t receive a $200 million emergency loan until it receives its next appropriation.
"If we can't borrow $200 million, we can't make it through this fiscal year," Gunn stated June 6. He said he believes Amtrak has a 50-50 chance of receiving the funds.
Gunn was quoted as saying that any shutdown would involve the whole system -- not just the long-distance trains but "all of them." Gunn said he was optimistic that he could negotiate a short-term loan, using as collateral $200 million from the expected federal appropriation at the beginning of the fiscal year Oct. 1.
In exchange for the $200 million, Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, in an emergency meeting, June 24 reportedly required Gunn to begin to dismantle the national system and concentrate on the short-distance corridors.
Gunn, in a refreshing change, declined the request, as did Amtrak’s board. The talks continued through most of the last week of June. As of June 27, the Bush Administration and Amtrak officials said they were working on a deal to keep Amtrak operational.
If Amtrak did not receive the emergency funding, service was scheduled to stop July 4.
Gunn, who once headed the transit systems in New York City and Washington, is taking over at one of the system’s most difficult times. His appointment follows the Auto-Train derailment and record losses. Gunn’s predecessor, George Warrington, who returned to New Jersey to head a transit system, threatened in March to
discontinue all 18 long-distance trains if Amtrak didn’t receive $1.2 billion.
Gunn comes aboard with exceptional experience and leadership skills to guide Amtrak at a time of tremendous opportunity, said Amtrak's chairman, Mayor Robert Smith of Meridian, Miss. "He brings to Amtrak an international reputation of reinvesting in better track and fleet, enhancing service, improving financial performance and planning."
Committed to Long-Distance Trains
"I have always been a proponent of a strong national passenger rail network," Gunn said. "While we face substantial financial and physical challenges, I'm convinced that by securing adequate operational and capital funding, we will be able to rebuild our plant and equipment in an effective and efficient manner, and continue to provide a high-quality service to the traveling public."
Wayne Copple, former MOKSRail president and NARP regional director, provided a legislative update on Amtrak funding at the Missouri-Kansas Rail Passenger Coalition's Kansas City Union Station April 13 meeting, shortly before Gunn’s arrival at Amtrak. Copple said some of Amtrak's critics have been silenced.
"Seems to me there has been kind of a shift in momentum in favor of Amtrak," he said. "The negative voices have been quieted somewhat."
Copple said there are "some hard feelings in Congress" toward the Bush Administration not developing a comprehensive proposal for intercity passenger rail service. "It's far from a done deal, though," he said. "A lot of things can happen. There are many different proposals out there. However, it looks a lot better than it did one month ago."
Copple urged rail advocates to write letters to their congressional representatives asking them to co-sponsor Sen. Ernest Hollings' S1550 bill that provides $1.2 billion for Amtrak funding.
"We ought to work on (Sen.) Carnahan," Copple said of Missouri's freshmen senator. "We need to concentrate on her."
White House idles on Amtrak crisis – May cut Amtrak to corridor-only operations
Up until the funding crisis, which made national headlines during late June, the Bush administration and Congress remained uncertain about what should happen to Amtrak. On June 20, DOT announced a plan that would require states to pay for more of Amtrak service. The plan, observers say, bears a strong resemblance to the plan recommended by the Amtrak Reform Council.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle decried the plan, saying it would doom interstate passenger rail service.
Passenger rail supporters should continue to write the president, Secretary of Transportation and their congressional representatives. Tell them dismantling the nation’s passenger rail system when all transportation modes are being strained due to increases in travel and increasing congestion would be a terrible mistake.
Amtrak, despite its many faults and past management mistakes, is carrying more passengers than it has ever carried. 23 million Americans took Amtrak trips in 2001.
America has a passenger rail system comparable to Third World nations. Amtrak should be expanded and reformed, not downsized. That’s all Amtrak has been for the past years – downsized. Every time an administration or Congress came along that wasn’t favorable to Amtrak, management was forced to cut service due to not receiving proper funding. This is a dilemma that the nation’s air travel system, which has received increasing amounts of taxpayer subsidy, has never had to face.
Amtrak already provides short-distance passenger rail service to the nation’s leading corridors. Most of these corridor trains are funded by states – which should properly fund such localized service. On the other hand, it is the federal government’s role to provide infrastructure funding for national, intercity passenger trains, as the federal government does with Interstate highway construction and airports and the FAA’s expensive air traffic control system.
This country has long had an imbalanced transportation funding system. Amtrak has been attacked for receiving $25 billion in subsidies since its 1971 founding. Critics overlook the fact that highways annually receive $30 billion in federal assistance. In the year 2001 alone, the airline industry, which received $15 billion in addition to its yearly $15 billion appropriation, received more taxpayer money than our nation's rail passenger system has received in 30 years.
Please tell your elected officials how you have taken Amtrak trips for pleasure and business. Please state how passenger train travel – unlike the cattle-car airline service – is a comfortable and relaxing alternative to the increasingly crowded Interstate highway system and delay-plagued air travel system. Please urge our leaders to fix– not destroy- America’s passenger rail system. Please work to provide funding for a system that better serves the need of the traveling public.
Addresses of Kansas and Missouri congressional representatives and federal officials can be found on MOKSRail’s Web site, at www.trainweb.org/moksrail.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Only about 20 MOKSRail members attended the last meeting. 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
On August 6, Missouri voters will be asked to approve Proposition B, a sales and fuel tax increase that primarily funds roadway improvements. Part of the bill, however, maintains state funding for Amtrak’s two daily round trips between St. Louis and Kansas City.
According to a June 26 article in the Kansas City Star, the tax plan would generate $483 million yearly by increasing the state's sales tax a half-cent, to 4.725 percent, and raising the gasoline and diesel fuel tax 4 cents, to 21 cents a gallon.
The bill also provides $110 million annually for interstate improvements. The Star notes that amount of funding would not be enough to widen Interstate 70 to six lanes from Kansas City to St. Louis.
The article states that the projects approved by the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission would ultimately be up to local groups to approve and require appropriations from the General Assembly.
The bill, which mostly includes highway improvements, would also provide a 10 percent increase in public transit services statewide, including $4 million in Kansas City. The state’s airports and river ports will also benefit.
Instead of working to widen I-70 to six lanes, MOKSRail believes money would be better spent to double track the Union Pacific line from Jefferson City to Kansas City and triple track other portions of the St. Louis – Kansas City line, plus adding more centralized traffic control and sidings. Those improvements would allow the UP to more effectively operate Amtrak trains plus additional schedules and allow Amtrak to operate Roadrailer trains on high speed schedules, thus reducing cross-state Interstate truck and passenger traffic.
MOKSRail President Urges Amtrak’s new CEO to improve service
EDITOR’S NOTE: David Gunn has his hands full. MOKSRail president John Mills, Topeka, Kan., June 1 wrote to David Gunn regarding how station staffing cuts and lack of checked baggage service are harming passenger rail service. His letter describes the service problems. Excerpts follow.
I have just returned from the local Amtrak station meeting a seven hour late Amtrak train no. 4, which was due to arrive at 5:14 a.m. Since March 1, no Amtrak employee is scheduled to be on duty either Saturday or Sunday mornings. A non-union caretaker is supposed to open the station at 1:00 a.m. and remain on duty until the westbound train no. 3 departs at 1:37 a.m. and keep the station open until the eastbound departs.
This week the regular Amtrak ticket clerk is on vacation, no Amtrak employee has been on duty since Friday, May 24. There is no relief employee to cover vacations, holidays, sick days and no checked baggage service is provided between Kansas City and Albuquerque.
At the station, I was greeted by a group of hostile Amtrak passengers and relatives meeting passengers due to arrive on No. 4. I found the station doors all locked and no information provided as to why. No seats or benches nor portable toilets are anywhere near for waiting people to use. No caretaker was on duty.
A woman and her nine-year-old son are waiting to catch the train to Fort Madison, Iowa. Another woman is waiting to catch the train to Chicago and met up with a group of 54 other women who caught the train at 5:00 a.m. in Garden City, all en route to a bowling tourney. I wonder if they will ever ride Amtrak again. Other passengers who had connections to make at Chicago may have cancelled out. Also waiting were three cars of people waiting to pick up arriving passengers.
Mr. Gunn, can you imagine a similar set of circumstances being permitted to take place at any airport in the U.S. or at an Amtrak station along the Northeast Corridor? Passengers and “guests” being required to wait outside in 100 degree heat with no place to sit, no toilet facilities or drinking fountain. Nothing. The train did not arrive until 12:35 p.m.
I must add to the problems that Amtrak has made at the stations since the March 1, 2002, massive employee cuts extends aboard the trains as well. The lack of checked baggage service is causing chaos and very unsafe conditions to become routine on long-distance trains in particular. One of the passengers told me that conditions on the train she arrived on to Topeka were intolerable. She had to be seated in the lower level handicapped seats because no other seats were available. The handicapped toilet was being used to store unchecked baggage that would have been in the baggage car. As the heavy summer travel proceeds, this will only get worse and more dangerous.
If it is Amtrak’s contention that these service and employee reductions are going to produce “savings” and result in cutting the deficit, then Amtrak needs more than a new president. These steps are only counter productive and will result in more “one time” riders than the loss of many who have been regular “patrons.”
I am very aware of Amtrak’s current financial situation and the need for an immediate supplemental appropriation to get it through the current crisis. I am also fully cognizant of Amtrak’s equipment shortage, due to wrecked cars not being repaired. However, I am convinced the station staffing and conditions on board the trains due to lack of checked baggage service are likewise and must be addressed quickly or the damage will be unrepairable.
The Missouri Rail Passenger Advisory Committee, which meets quarterly to discuss the Missouri Amtrak service, needs a representative from the Missouri-Kansas Rail Passenger Coalition to attend the meetings, said Sharon Dashtaki, assistant administrator of railroads for the Missouri Department of Transportation. The group usually meets on a weekday from 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. in Jefferson City at the Governor's Office Building, adjacent to the Governor's Mansion.
On July 9, MOKSRail president John Mills and secretary-treasurer Pete and Carolyn McMasters will deliver a $1,000 check to the Missouri Department of Transportation’s Rail Division to be used exclusively for advertisement of Amtrak’s Mules and Ann Rutledge trains operating between St. Louis and Kansas City.
“Our membership puts its money where our mouth is in support of Amtrak and rail passenger service,” Mills said. The meeting will be in Jefferson City, Mo., with Amtrak representatives in attendance. The money will be used to target the smaller markets of Hermann, Washington, Sedalia and Warrensburg.
On account of track work related to the high-speed rail project, some Amtrak trains between Chicago and St. Louis will have schedule changes through August 9, according to Amtrak. Northbound, train 300 runs 20 minutes earlier, train 304 will run 30 minutes later. Train 22/422 (The Texas Eagle), will run 90 minutes later. Southbound train 303 will run 45 minutes later. The changes to trains 303/304 will likely affect the St. Louis – Kansas City service.
Lobbying AARP to support passenger rail service
Is heavyweight lobbying support for Amtrak near? With your help, maybe.
The biggest political lobby in the country could be supporting Amtrak within a year if a woman in the state of California gets your help.
Doras Briggs, a National Association of Railroad Passengers director from Kensington, Calif., believes the 33 million-member American Association of Retired Persons could be lobbying for Amtrak by the first of next year if members respond to information she has recently discovered.
Trying to get AARP to support Amtrak is something that has been tried by many rail advocates several times over the 31-year history of Amtrak. But now Briggs believes she has discovered a formula that will work, with your easy help.
“My meeting with key AARP people while I was in Washington (recently),” she wrote MOKSRail in a May 20 letter, “was so heartening that I’m convinced we can finally win their open support. As you know, they are the biggest lobby in the country --well over 33 million members --and these members vote. So their views are respected by legislators. If AARP supports Amtrak, I have no doubt our national passenger rail system will survive, be strengthened and someday be expanded.
To achieve that goal, however, the AARP people told me twice, very firmly, ‘We need lots of letters’ --from AARP members, of course.”
“To understand why these letters are so important,” Briggs said, “you should know that AARP staff go through a set process each year, culminating in its annual policy manual. Once approved and published, the issues in that manual are the only ones their lobbyists are permitted to work on. That process is right now underway for the 2003 Policy Manual. So we need to be sure Amtrak is included.”
AARP must be flooded with short letters consisting of a couple of sentences from members. The flow must not stop until AARP is convinced that Amtrak is of sufficiently critical importance to its members to be included in their next policy manual.
To urge AARP to support Amtrak, please write
Judith Kenyon, AARP National Legislative Council,
601 E. Street N.W., Washington, D.C. 20049. firstname.lastname@example.org
Sign the letter and include your AARP membership number, along with your name and address.
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John Mills, former MOKSRail vice president, was nominated by Wayne Copple at the April 13 meeting to serve as the group's president. Mills succeeds David Riddle, Kansas City, Mo., who served as president in 2000-2001.
Doug Ohlemeier, Lawrence, Kan., was nominated by Pete McMasters to serve as vice president.
Pete and Carolyn McMasters will continue serving as the group's treasurer and secretary. They have served in those positions since the late 1980s.
"They have been the glue that has held this organization together," Copple, a former MOKSRail president, said. "These people have given their time and money and a lot of effort keeping this organization going."
Pete McMasters stated one of the organization's goals has been to get Amtrak to return to Kansas City Union Station. Amtrak currently operates out of small, out-of-the-way and track-level facility next to the station and below the city’s
streets. "It looks like it might happen this fall," McMasters said.
An April 11 Kansas City Star article announced Amtrak's plans to return to the station, using a section located on the northwest side of the massive building. Ultimately, Union Station is intended to serve as a transportation hub, with Amtrak and commuter rail passengers arriving and then departing to downtown and the Country Club Plaza on special express buses, light rail or both, the article, found at www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/3038088.htm, noted.
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation and Amtrak today announced June 4 that the Heartland Flyer has secured a two-year contract to continue service between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth through 2004.
"Our state-supported passenger service, the Heartland Flyer, has proven to be very popular wit the citizens of Oklahoma," said Paul Adams, ODOT's deputy director. "We are extremely pleased to announce with Amtrak the continuation of daily service for two more years." The number of passengers using the train in its first year, 71,000, was four times what Amtrak had estimated.
The yearly contract with Amtrak will be $4.6 million. Remaining federal money from a $23 million federal subsidy that launched the train, courtesy of Republican U.S. Senator Don Nickles, in 1999 and money earned by the state from ticket sales and concessions will finance the next two years of operation. The state will provide nearly 50 percent of that from money it has earned the past three years from ticket sales and concessions, $1.3 million a year.
Since its inception in 1999, the Heartland Flyer has provided passenger rail service to more than 185,000 passengers, easily exceeding Amtrak’s ridership projections. The train celebrated its third anniversary June 14. Now what’s needed is an extension northward to Kansas City via Wichita or Tulsa.
The Missouri-Kansas Rail Passenger Coalition has a new station on the World Wide Web. Since March,
www.trainweb.org/moksrail has been the place to find information on Missouri and Kansas passenger rail issues.
The redesigned site also features resources for passenger rail advocates. Writings from leading passenger rail supporters are included as well as information, developed in cooperation with other state rail passenger organizations, regarding subsidization of other transportation modes. Links to many other passenger rail news information sources are also provided. Fact sheets and sample letters are also available.
A contact sheet has addresses, telephone and fax numbers and e-mail addresses for Kansas and Missouri congressional representatives’ Washington and local district offices.
Legislative updates will be periodically posted regarding Amtrak funding. The site, provided at no cost by TrainWeb.com, like this newsletter and other MOKSRail activities, is provided by volunteer efforts.
Contact information regarding MOKSRail officers is also provided on the Web site. See you online.
Should you have material you would like to contribute to the site, or this newsletter, please contact MOKSRail vice president and newsletter editor/ webmaster Doug Ohlemeier at 800-255-5113 x375 or email@example.com