Economy

Amtrak ridership holds steady in Kansas, while low gas prices cut share in Missouri

Riding on Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner

(File) Missouri may soon face higher expenses for passenger rail service. Riders of the Missouri River Runner think the expense is worth it. (May 12, 2013)
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(File) Missouri may soon face higher expenses for passenger rail service. Riders of the Missouri River Runner think the expense is worth it. (May 12, 2013)

Amtrak served more riders in Kansas in 2015, while Missouri ridership slid 5.3 percent from 2014, in large part due to lower gasoline prices.

Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, which stops at six cities in Kansas, posted a record year with more than 367,000 passengers on its Chicago-Los Angeles route. Kansas accounted for more than 49,000 of those passengers, a slight increase over 2014.

Missouri’s state-supported River Runner between St. Louis and Kansas City, by contrast, lost 10,000 riders from 2014 to 2015, with about 179,000 for the year that ended Sept. 30.

Nationwide, Amtrak carried 30.8 million passengers in 2015.

But Amtrak may be facing some competition with lower gasoline prices. In both Missouri and Kansas, prices are about 24 cents below what they were a year ago, according to AAA. The current U.S. average price is $1.99 a gallon, compared to $2.29 a year ago.

“When gas prices go down, we do see ridership fall some,” said Kristi Jamison, railroad operations manager at the Missouri Department of Transportation.

In addition to two daily round-trip trains between Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri is also served by two long-distance trains, the Southwest Chief and the Texas Eagle.

The Southwest Chief provides the only Amtrak service in Kansas, stopping in Lawrence, Topeka, Newton, Hutchinson, Dodge City and Garden City.

Only a few years ago, the route’s future was thrown into doubt because of tens of millions of dollars in repairs needed to the track across western Kansas.

The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded grants totaling $27.5 million to Kansas in 2014 and Colorado this year to fix the track so the trains can maintain higher speeds and shorter travel times. The Kansas Department of Transportation, Amtrak, BNSF and several cities along the route also contributed funding for the upgrades.

Wichita applied for, but did not receive, a federal grant to bring service back to Kansas’ largest city for the first time since October 1979. It is estimated to cost $90 million to extend Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer from Oklahoma City to Wichita and Newton, Kan.

Curtis Tate: 202-383-6018, @tatecurtis

Amtrak by the numbers, 2015

49,673 Kansas passengers

367,267 Southwest Chief passengers

698,629 Missouri passengers

30.8 million nationwide passengers

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