Safety Mandate Raises Passenger Rail Safety Concerns in Missouri

February 3, 2015

The expense of installing mandated train collision avoidance technology is putting passenger service in Missouri at risk, according to the state Department of Transportation.

The equipment, which is designed to override human error, is supposed to be in place by Dec. 31, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

Michelle Teel, director of multimodal operations for the Missouri Department of Transportation, testified before a U.S. Senate committee last week that Amtrak has notified the Kansas City Terminal Railroad that it may discontinue passenger service into Kansas City beginning in 2016 if it has to pay a $12 million share of the upgrade. Missouri would have to pay about $20 million and a $2 million annual share for maintenance.

“While we agree (that positive train control) helps improve rail safety, we do not believe MoDOT and Amtrak should be required to bear the cost of the entire PTC system in the terminals considering the volume of hazardous materials and other commodities in these dense population areas,” Teel told the committee.

In a Nov. 14 letter to MoDOT, Amtrak Chief Operations Officer D.J. Stadtler said the national passenger railroad is “not in a position” to fund positive train control on state-supported routes, so costs associated with the River Runner would fall to Missouri.

If Missouri can’t commit to picking up the share, Stadtler wrote, then Amtrak will notify the Kansas City Terminal Railroad that the River Runner service will end.

MoDOT chief Dave Nichols told Stadtler in December that MoDOT would need more information. Meantime, the state will not “blindly pay” the cost. Amtrak and the state maintain that railroads should pay for the system because of the heavy freight traffic.

Meantime, U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., are seeking to extend the deadline for positive train control installation by five years.

Amtrak issued a statement Friday underscoring the carrier’s commitment to positive train control and pledging to work with MoDOT to “find an equitable solution” to achieving the requirement in the Kansas City Terminal.

Amtrak officials added they are “hopeful” a resolution can be reached to maintain service to Kansas City.

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