Second cross-state Amtrak train starts July 18

People exit an Amtrak train Tuesday, July 5, 2022, in Jefferson City. (Kate Cassady/News Tribune photo)
People exit an Amtrak train Tuesday, July 5, 2022, in Jefferson City. (Kate Cassady/News Tribune photo)

Two daily Amtrak round-trips across the state came to a halt at the start of 2022; they had been powered by state and federal COVID-10 relief funds.

The Missouri River Runner Amtrak train service went back to once daily round-trip service with one train leaving Kansas City in the morning and one leaving St. Louis in the afternoon.

But two daily round-trips are coming back around the bend, thanks to funding approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Mike Parson.

The service resumes July 18; tickets are on sale now at amtrak.com.

The increased level of service comes just as folks may be looking to use the trains more due to the cost of gasoline.

Although they don't have specific data to show if there actually has been an increase in ridership since gas prices started rising earlier this year, Amtrak officials said historically, they see increases in inquiries about how much it costs to ride the trains when big increases in gas prices occur.

Since late spring, officials said, they've seen 80 percent, or better in some areas, of pre-pandemic ridership levels return where full-Amtrak has service has yet to come back.

Federal law requires states to pay a portion of the cost of certain Amtrak trains. All of the state's funding comes from its general revenue fund.

After Gov. Parson signed the legislation last week, the Missouri Department of Transportation was given $13.25 million for two daily round-trips. Last year, MoDOT was given $10.85 million. It funded two round-trip trains from July through the end of December 2021 and one daily round-trip from January through June of this year.

Before the legislative session began, MoDOT officials said lawmakers told them they were not to go into arrears with the service and going back to one train would allow them to balance the budget.

In spring 2020, the River Runner, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, went down to one daily round trip. In July 2021, the state and Amtrak restored the second daily round trip thanks to funds from the state and the federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) for COVID-19 relief. The funds ran through December.

This may be the way the River Runner service runs for the near future, MoDOT officials said. By running a second cross-state train from July through the end of the year, the trains are serving more travelers as more people usually take the trains in the second half of the year, they said. Many of the passengers go to events such as the State Fair in Sedalia next month and various fall festivals such as the Oktoberfest in Hermann.

An economic impact study of the Missouri River Runner found the service generates more than $200 million in annual economic impact in Missouri and supported more than 1,250 jobs in 10 communities where the trains stop across the state, which includes Jefferson City.

Since the end of May, Amtrak has been using new passenger cars that have allowed them to offer service from Kansas City to Chicago. The River Runner still makes all the regular stops, but now passengers traveling between Missouri and Illinois no longer have to switch trains and experience a layover in St. Louis.

  photo  People board an Amtrak train Tuesday, July 5, 2022, in Jefferson City. (Kate Cassady/News Tribune photo)