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Archive for Monday, September 26, 2005

Amtrak ridership is on upswing

September 26, 2005

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— Amtrak ridership on the Kansas City to St. Louis route is at its highest in three years, and officials say rising gasoline prices and a new marketing campaign are the reasons.

The trend in Missouri mirrors nationwide numbers, with national ridership up by about 145,000 in the first 10 months of fiscal 2005, which ends Sept. 20.

In the fiscal year ending June 30, about 171,400 people boarded Amtrak's four daily trains between Kansas City and St. Louis, a 5.5 percent increase from the previous year. Amtrak has not had that many Missouri riders since 2002, when 188,800 took the train between St. Louis and Kansas City.

With fares ranging from $25 to $58 for a one-way trip across Missouri, passengers say the fare is similar to the cost of filling their cars with gasoline. And they say the ride is more relaxing.

"It's a more economical and comfortable mode of transportation," said Renae Smith of St. Louis. "You can walk around and move about. You're not confined to sitting in your seat as you would be in a bus or a plane."

The state of Missouri pays Amtrak about $6.2 million a year for service between Kansas City and St. Louis. The state pays the direct costs, such as crew salaries and fuel, which amount to about 60 percent of the total cost.

Brian Weiler, multimodal director for the state Department of Transportation, said the increase in passengers might be because Amtrak funding appeared to be stable.

"There's been a lot of uncertainty about passenger rail service. It's been hotly debated within the state legislature," Weiler said. "I think that uncertainty in the funding at both the state and the national level has driven people away."

This year Gov. Matt Blunt proposed cutting the subsidy for Amtrak's Missouri service, but lawmakers kept it in the budget. But a Blunt spokesman now said the governor hopes the state's budget situation will allow continued funding of Amtrak.

In Washington D.C., President Bush proposed eliminating Amtrak funding in fiscal year 2006, saying the service needs reforms because it is inefficient and has been draining the federal budget since it was created in the 1970s.

But Congress has resisted, with the House recommending keeping Amtrak at its current funding level of $1.2 billion for next year. A Senate committee has recommended about $1.4 billion.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said a new marketing campaign that shifted from promoting a generic train experience to focusing on fares and schedules has helped increase ridership. And he said the company had improved its maintenance.

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