P. O. Box 1183, Mission, KS 66202-1183
Bush Administration puts Southwest Chief & Texas Eagle on Hit List
Passenger rail supporters need to contact their state and national elected officials and urge them to properly fund passenger rail service. One of Missouri’s two St. Louis to Kansas City trains is threatened with discontinuance because of a statewide budget crisis. Amtrak’s continuing funding crisis is threatening to shut-down the entire national intercity passenger train system.
As of this writing, disagreement remained between Congress and the White House regarding Amtrak’s FY 2003 funding. Amtrak has requested $1.2 billion, which the U.S. Senate approved. The House of Representatives, however, approved a lower funding level of $762 million while the White House recommended $900 million.
The Bush Administration Feb. 3 cited the Southwest Chief and the Texas Eagle as two of the Amtrak trains it would like to discontinue.
The administration, in its 2004 budget request, stated the Southwest Chief, which runs through Kansas on its run between Chicago and Los Angeles, as losing $237 per passenger; the Texas Eagle, which runs through St. Louis and southeast Missouri on its Chicago to San Antonio run, was cited as losing $258 per passenger. Continued next page
NARP issue Missouri alert; MODOT to consider private operators’ bids
The latest in securing funding for Missouri’s passenger trains involves a private operator offering to run the service at a lower cost and Amtrak lowering its cost.
On Jan. 28, the National Association of Rail Passengers sent an email and regular mail message to Missouri NARP members that stated how continuation of two of the St. Louis-Kansas City "Mules" beyond February 28 depends on state approval of another $1.2 million for Amtrak. “Continuation of any service beyond June 30 depends on adequate funding in the state's Fiscal 2004 budget,” the alert said.
NARP urged members to write their state lawmakers and urge them to fund the second daily train.
In an Associated Press article, an Amtrak spokeswoman said if Amtrak doesn’t receive the supplemental funding, the train would cease operation after Feb. 28. The report noted that given the pace of the state budget process, it was unlikely lawmakers would have passed a supplemental appropriation for Amtrak service by Feb. 28. But if the extra money looks likely, Amtrak officials may be willing to negotiate continued service with the state, the Amtrak spokeswoman was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, officials with Herzog Transit Services of St. Joseph, Mo., in a Jan. 27 Kansas City Star article, stated how they would like to take over the Kansas City – St. Louis service and operate it for less than $8.9 million a year, the amount Amtrak had charged.
Less than two weeks later, Amtrak lowered the price tag to $6.4 million.
Amtrak said the lower figure includes only the actual operating costs of running the trains. Overhead and depreciation costs associated with the routes are not included, Brian Weiler, the Missouri Department of Transportation’s director of multimodal operations, said in news reports.
On Feb. 7, the state’s Highway and Transportation Commission authorized a request for proposals for any company interested in operating the trains. Amtrak's contract with Missouri ends Feb. 28.
Lawmakers last year appropriated $5 million for the subsidies, although Amtrak's actual cost is about $6.2 million, a Jefferson City newspaper reported.
The funding is an issue of mobility options for Missouri citizens who can't drive and can catch a train into St. Louis or Kansas City, Weiler said.
Students attending Lincoln University, the University of Missouri-Columbia, Central Missouri State at Warrensburg and State Fair Community College in Sedalia regularly use the trains. Continued next page
Missouri service funding- continued
Herzog Transit Services operates several commuter lines in Florida, Texas and California. In the Kansas City Star article, Herzog officials declined to provide details on how much money the company would need to run such a service or how the company would run the trains.
Sharon Dashtaki, MODOT’s assistant administrator of railroads, updated MOKSRail members on legislative funding efforts at MOKSRail’s Jan. 25 meeting at Kansas City Union Station. She said $1.2 million is needed to continue service from March 1 to June 30. MODOT has requested $8.9 million to fund the trains in FY 2004.
“The $5 million that the state appropriated last year, we knew that was not enough to continue the four trains for one year,” she said.
“We need everyone’s support and we need you to contact your state senators and representatives,” Dashtaki said. “Let them know your support. We have to have the funding.”
Dashtaki said Amtrak has been “biting the bullet” and absorbing the route’s costs. A new route cost analysis system increased the service’s costs from $6.2 million a year to $8.9 million.
Options MODOT is considering to save costs, Dashtaki said, include eliminating station agents in Kirkwood and Jefferson City, removing one coach and ending snack and beverage service.
Rail supporters should write their representatives and tell them how the service is important to their community, Dashtaki said. She cited Sedalia, whose Amtrak station is receiving a needed federal grant for renovation, as having no bus service.
“Amtrak is the only transportation service that city has,” Dashtaki said.
Regarding the offer of a private contractor to run the trains, Dashtaki said MODOT “has a lot of things to work out. There are private entities that think they can do so at a lower cost.”
Amtrak national funding update – continued from p. 1
The administration's reliance on inaccurate figures and phrases from fringe think tanks to kill off Amtrak passenger trains underscores the problem in the debate over Amtrak funding. The Amtrak Reform Council, which was highly critical of Amtrak, however, stated that the Southwest Chief was the fifth best performer out of the system's 19 long-distance trains in terms of operating ratio, where costs are divided by revenues.
If Congress goes along with President Bush’s recommendations, Texas, Kansas, New Mexico, Arizona and Arkansas would lose all passenger train service. Missouri would have only one daily Kansas City- St. Louis train.
Enactment of the House Committee mark of $762 million would guarantee Amtrak's insolvency and a complete shutdown of the railroad by springtime, according to the National Association of Rail Passengers. The $1.2 billion level would allow President and CEO, David Gunn, to bring stability to Amtrak for the remainder of the fiscal year so Congress can debate the future of passenger rail service in this country.
Mr. Gunn has written a budget that focuses on repairing equipment needed for revenue service and making investments in their infrastructure just to maintain current speeds and operations. In doing so, he had to cut or defer nearly $200 million in activities and projects critical to the railroad just to get to the $1.2 billion level. Failure to invest in certain urgent capital expenses is just as perilous to Amtrak's operations as is a reduction to the operating subsidy, according to NARP.
Remind your elected officials about the importance of passenger train service. Addresses are on MOKSRail’s Web site.
Volunteers needed to work MOKSRail booth at the 20th annual Topeka Model Train show,
Saturday, March 1, 9:00 a.m.- 4:00 p.m. and Sunday, March 2, 10:00 a.m.- 3:00 p.m. at the Kansas Expocentre.
For more information, contact newsletter editor Doug Ohlemeier at firstname.lastname@example.org or 816-795-8775.