JEFFERSON CITY — A newly opened railroad bridge east of Missouri's capital city is clearing the last major bottleneck for trains traveling between St. Louis and Jefferson City.
Officials expect the 1,200-foot-long Osage River rail bridge, which officially opened Monday in Osage City, to help improve on-time performance for Amtrak passenger trains and Union Pacific freight trains. The Jefferson City News Tribune reported that there are about 60 freight trains and four passenger trains crossing the stretch each day between Kansas City and St. Louis.
The new bridge means the entire line through eastern Missouri has double tracks instead of funneling to a single line to cross the Osage River.
"Now they can run trains constantly," Ken Menges, director of the union representing rail workers, told the newspaper. "It increases productivity tremendously."
Building the bridge cost $28 million. Most of the money came from grants through the federal stimulus package, with about $6 million coming from Union Pacific.
"The project eliminates the last bottleneck on the eastern portion of our St. Louis to Kansas City corridor, which will benefit those riding the Missouri River Runner trains as well as Union Pacific customers," Donna Kush, Union Pacific's vice president for public affairs in the northern region, said in a news release.
Missouri transportation officials said the passenger Missouri River Runner route was on schedule about 90 percent of the time last year compared to 64 percent in 2008. The improvement largely has been because of rail improvements west of Jefferson City. Ridership over that period has increased by nearly 200,000 passengers.
"We're pleased to complete this new bridge ahead of schedule and under budget," Missouri Transportation Department Director Dave Nichols said in a news release. "This project proves that working together, we can deliver needed transportation projects that create jobs, improve safety and foster economic growth."
The bridge over the Osage River also had been part of a dispute over another Missouri span.
A bridge in Boonville was considered to be torn down and recycled so the steel could be used for a new Osage River bridge. The federal stimulus funds alleviated the need for that steel, and the Boonville bridge has been turned over to officials there.
That bridge in Boonville had been the subject of more than five years in the courts, federal regulatory agencies and negotiations. Because it no longer was being used for transportation, the U.S. Coast Guard had deemed it a navigational hazard to be removed from the Missouri River. Union Pacific, which bought the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad Co. in 1988, had lined up a contractor to dismantle it when then-Attorney General Jay Nixon sued in 2005 to halt the project.
Nixon eventually lost his case, but the legal fight delayed the dismantling — and regulatory procedure delayed it further. Nixon became governor in January 2009.
The Boonville City Council approved a deal in January to transfer ownership of the bridge to the city.