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Questioning the Wisdom of Cuts to Missouri River Runner
January 28, 2022 by Sean Jeans-Gail

Following budgeting decisions by the Missouri State legislature, the Missouri Department of Transportation has cut River Runner service in half. The Kansas City - St. Louis train will now run one daily roundtrip, departing KCY in the morning and returning from STL in the afternoon.

Following a 2008 revision to federal law, states are required to provide operating funding for service on corridors of 750 miles or less. Missouri has budgeted $10.85 million for the River Runner in Fiscal Year 2022 (July 2021 - June 2022). MoDOT estimates that cutting daily service in half will save $2.5 million.

“I realize it makes it tough for some members of the legislature to support a service that doesn’t impact the entire state from a customer perspective, but it does provide economic benefit across the state,” MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna told the Fulton Sun. “They’d like to see the service not subsidized in any way, but that’s probably not realistic for this service. All modes of transportation have some degree of governmental support.”

MoDOT officials pointed to an economic impact study of the River Runner which found the service generates in excess of $200 million in economic activity for the state every year.

“Given the marginal cost of running a second train, compared with the benefits of a second daily frequency, cutting service on the corridor makes little economic sense in the long term,” said Sean Jeans-Gail, Rail Passengers’ Vice President of Government Affairs.

Ridership and revenue has been reduced by the pandemic, but ridership has been returning as the pandemic recedes. The Missouri Rail Passenger Advisory Group (MORPAC), which represents the ten communities served by the route, is working with the legislature to secure funds to restore the service in Spring 2022.

“We hope there won’t be too much of a break, and I hope we could see the second-daily round trips resume sometime in March,” said Tammy Bruckerhoff, tourism director for Hermann, MO and member of MORPAC. “So many people have begun to realize how easy it is to travel to Hermannn, Jefferson City or any one of the other stops along the route and not have to worry about driving.”

Rail Passengers has reached out to local stakeholders to look for ways to effectively organize public support for the train. We are committed to working with our supporters in Missouri to ensure the service is restored.

In the meantime, passengers are struggling to adapt to the change. NPR affiliate KCUR interviewed passenger Vickie Barnes about the service reduction. Barnes, St. Louis resident who travels 2-3 times per month for business, says she loves the experience of traveling by train, but the new schedule would require her to fly instead, a more expensive option.

“I like to get here earlier during the day,” said Barnes. “When I was traveling this time, I actually was scheduled to come in from 4 to 9:50 and I didn’t get in here until almost 11 o’clock. Had I been able to come in from 8 am, I could have arrived at 2 and it would have made my work day on Friday a lot easier.”

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