Missouri Railroad Bridge Completed Early, Under Budget
Between tomorrow and Sunday, AAA projects 43.4 million Americans will travel 50 or more miles from home by road, rail, sky, or water. And as we enter the busiest travel period of the year, record numbers of Americans are opting to ride the rails.
In preparation for another record Thanksgiving holiday week, Amtrak is running every available passenger rail car in its fleet, while adding additional service in the Northeast Corridor, the Chicago hub, the Pacific Northwest, and in California.
This is hardly a surprise. As I wrote on this blog recently, Amtrak has set annual ridership records in 10 out of the last 11 years, fueled by a growing demand in more than 500 communities nationwide. That includes Missouri, where Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner – operating on a 238-mile rail line serving eight cities between St. Louis and Kansas City – has set six consecutive annual ridership records.
FRA Administrator Joe Szabo; photo courtesy Cathy Morrison, Missouri Department of Transportation.
Yesterday, in Osage City, I joined Missouri DOT, Union Pacific, and Amtrak at a ribbon cutting for a new railroad bridge that will eliminate the rail line’s last chokepoint between Jefferson City and St. Louis. And in addition to benefiting four daily passenger trains, the new railroad bridge also reduces delays for 60 daily freight trains, which is great news for Missouri’s farmers, manufacturers, and businesses.
On the old bridge, passenger and freight trains would often have to wait until a train coming from the opposite direction cleared. But with the addition of the new 1,200-foot structure, the rail corridor now consists entirely of two mainline tracks that will allow all trains to pass through the area unimpeded.
Missouri has already shown us that rail network improvements can improve overall system performance and attract more riders.
For example, in 2008 –before we invested in a passing siding west of Jefferson City– the River Runner’s on-time performance was 64 percent. The next year, the new siding helped raise on-time performance to 90 percent, and ridership has since grown more than 30 percent.
The new railroad bridge is yet another strategic investment in our rail infrastructure that will enable higher-performing passenger rail while laying a foundation to invest in faster, more frequent, and even more reliable service.
It’s one of 65 projects in 20 States and the District of Columbia that have received $4.1 billion in higher speed, intercity passenger rail funding and that are currently complete, under construction, or will soon start construction. And it’s another step forward for the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, a vision Missouri shares with eight other states to connect the Midwest’s 40 largest cities with high-performance passenger rail.
The role of rail in moving people and goods will only increase in the coming decades, and we are committed to making sure the nation’s rail system is safe, efficient, reliable, and supportive of economic growth.
We continue our call to provide rail with a predictable and reliable federal funding stream.
Let’s put rail on par with other forms of transportation. And let’s continue empowering our public and private sector partners –as we have in Missouri– to plan for and make bold investments in rail.
Joe Szabo is the Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration.