Multi-million dollar safety upgrades needed to ensure Amtrak stays on the tracks in KC

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Amtrak says expensive safety upgrades could force it to drop service in Kansas City by the end of the year. That could leave thousands of passengers scrambling to find other transportation.

The equipment at issue is designed to prevent the kind of tragedy that killed eight people on the rails in Philadelphia last month. Local travelers who use Amtrak are hoping for a solution.

There's a hefty price tag for new high-tech safety equipment that Congress has ordered railroads to install by the end of this year, and Amtrak says that could be the end of these routes.

"I don`t like to fly, and I don`t like to drive long distances, so train is good," said Debbi Toll, who was riding Amtrak on Friday to visit her sister.

She says if Amtrak stops running here, she's not so sure what she's going to do.

"How am I going to go to my sisters?" she asked. "I`d have to find another route to take, I guess."

"Congress as it has been inclined to do in recent years, did what they never did in previous years, and that is they not only cut Amtrak funding, but they failed to even provide enough money for some of the essentials," said Congressman Emanuel Cleaver.

Congressman Cleaver says a few weeks ago, Congress had the opportunity to pass THUD - transportation, housing, urban development budget - which is always put together in appropriations.

"Kansas City is very likely to suffer, St. Louis could suffer, Chicago could also suffer," added the congressman.

Congress has ordered railroads to install positive train control, or PTC, by the end of 2015, which won't be cheap.

"We`re talking about $32 million that we need to come up with by December," said Cleaver.

Amtrak says it's not currently funded by Congress or state partners to pay the costs. Given the priority for safety, compliance with federal law, and lack of available funding for the installation of PTC, Amtrak says it has little choice but to reroute or possibly terminate the Southwest Chief and the River Runner service at the end of the year.

"Senator McCaskill has introduced a bill to delay the deadline to 2020," said Cleaver, who says he doesn`t think anything will be approved that will generate an increase in federal spending.

The spokesman for Amtrak says they hope KCT and elected officials soon reach a solution...but time is running out.

Statements from State Senators:

Douglas Wagoner, spokesperson for U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill:
“Claire has made clear that losing passenger rail service in Kansas City is not an option, and she and Senator Blunt are working closely with all of the parties involved to keep them at the table and help devise a workable solution.”

Senator Roy Blunt:

“Amtrak service is important to Missouri and the country. I have questioned Amtrak about this issue in Congressional hearings and asked them to work with MoDOT to find a workable and fair solution that allows for the continuance of these vital transportation services while implementing increased safety measures. I will be working with my Senate colleagues and the various rail interests to find a workable solution going forward.”