House panel votes to cut regional Amtrak funding

Thursday, March 3, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:17 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — A House panel looking for budget savings has voted to eliminate state funding for the twice-daily Amtrak passenger train service between St. Louis and Kansas City.

The House Transportation Appropriations Committee voted Tuesday night to cut the $6.4 million that Gov. Matt Blunt had recommended to subsidize the train service. Earlier this week, several mayors and officials from cities along the train route pleaded with the committee to maintain Amtrak’s funding.

Blunt said Wednesday he still believes Amtrak should be funded.

“We need to sustain the services that exist today,” he said.

The two daily trains between Missouri’s largest cities make eight stops in-between — at Kirkwood, Washington, Hermann, Jefferson City, Sedalia, Warrensburg, Lee’s Summit and Independence. The Amtrak service has been a target of some legislative budget-cutters for several years but has always survived in the final version of the budget.

“We understand the tough issues you have financially,” Kirkwood Mayor Mike Swoboda told committee members. “Keep this vital route of transportation alive.”

Supporters of the train service said more people would use it if there wasn’t a question every year of whether funding would continue.

“The train is a lifeline,” said Sen. John Griesheimer, R-Washington. “Ridership goes down if passengers don’t know whether the train is going to survive.”

The state has helped cover the cost of the Amtrak route for years, but some lawmakers, especially in areas the train doesn’t reach, have grumbled about the funding. To help control the state’s costs, Amtrak agreed to impose a special $5 surcharge on Missouri passengers in 2003 and also eliminated ticket agents at some depots.

Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, said he plans to work to restore the money cut by the House committee.

“It’s extremely important to my district and in particular my hometown,” Gibbons said Wednesday. “It’s an important transportation option.”

A special legislative committee that studied rail and other transportation issues last fall also recommended the state continue funding Amtrak service. That panel was lead by Griesheimer.

House Transportation Appropriations Committee Chairman Lanie Black, R-Charleston, said he had to cut millions of dollars from all the budgets he oversees, and there wasn’t much more that could be cut from other areas, such as the Economic Development Department.

“To continue to cut that money will severely diminish that department’s ability to perform its function,” he said.

Black said it’s early in the budget process — the recommendation now goes to the full House Budget Committee — and said he expected the Senate to restore the Amtrak funding.

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