CHICAGO – Amtrak has provided a report to the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) that shows formidable obstacles to possible passenger rail service between St. Louis and Springfield, Mo.
The report requested by MoDOT found strategic merit to the proposed route, including serving the state’s third largest metropolitan area, tourism potential, and connections to Amtrak’s national rail service. However, it would also require an initial significant capital investment and ongoing state operating support.
The lack of a competitive trip time versus that of automobiles and a lower than expected ridership projection were also cited as concerns.
Specifically, the report found the route as-is would generate only 34,000 passengers annually, including 5,000 connecting from the current state-supported Amtrak service between St. Louis and Kansas City.
This is primarily due to the lengthy travel times on the nearly 235 miles of track, largely owned by the BNSF Railway, with train speeds lower than that of the adjacent Interstate 44. The result is a trip time of almost six hours — nearly twice that of driving — even after building a $4 million track connection between the BNSF and Union Pacific Railroad to shorten the route and complement the current state-supported service at Kirkwood, Mo. by adding a stop there. The low speeds are mainly due to the BNSF track as it follows the undulating terrain in the scenic Ozark Foothills, with much of it as curvature.
The report estimates the direct cost of providing the service would be $4.1 million annually and would generate approximately $700,000 in ticket revenue. The initial annual state contract cost would be approximately $3.4 million.
Another issue is the lack of available station infrastructure at proposed train stops in Sullivan, Rolla, Lebanon, and Springfield. Communities along the existing St. Louis to Kansas City service receive no state funding for station construction and must fund these projects locally.
Proposed changes to federal regulations require all new train stations meet new standards, to include a full-length platform to serve the longest passenger train using the line. It could cost several million dollars per stop to construct the required station infrastructure.
Due to cost constraints, Amtrak was not asked to study a major re-engineering of railway to achieve a higher differential for passenger train speeds versus freight trains. MoDOT’s rail section estimated the initial service would require warning system upgrades to 25 existing grade crossings at a cost of approximately $6 million. Substantial up-front costs for railcars and locomotives, crew training and other mobilization costs were also not within the study scope.
“While we were hoping for more positive news in Amtrak’s analysis of this proposed passenger rail service expansion, MoDOT will continue to seek to increase transportation options for Missourians,” said Brian Weiler, MoDOT’s multimodal director, who outlined passenger rail service expansion, including Amtrak’s report, to the Southwest Missouri Council of Governments (SMCOG) today in Springfield.