A heads up for Amtrak riders in Missouri: The trains are running late across the state and likely will well into next week.
Blame the heat, which can affect tracks A heat-related track problem, for example, has been suggested as the cause of the deadly July 4 Union Pacific derailment in the Chicago area. So railroads take precautions. The UP confirmed late Thursday that speed restrictions are back in place, just as they were a few weeks ago when highs were well into triple digits. That played havoc with the Missouri River Runner’s arrival times. This week, starting with the two afternoon trains on Wednesday – one out of St. Louis, one out of Kansas City – it seemed that the pattern was re-emerging.
Consider this morning’s 7:15 train out of Kansas City: nine minutes late by the time it made the usual 19-minute run to Independence, then 17 minutes late by Warrensburg, 37 by Sedalia, 46 by Hermann and an hour and 11 minutes by the next-to-last stop, in Kirkwood. Instead of making St. Louis at 12:55 p.m., the River Runner arrived right at one hour late, according to the railroad’s posted times. (Amtrak gives itself some padding by scheduling more time than it actually takes for the segments between Independence and Kansas City and between Kirkwood and St. Louis, so a train running, say, an hour late might make that last stop just 45 minutes late.)
Not that Amtrak will tell you this. It posts schedules and actual expected arrival times at www.amtrak.com/train-routes once a train is rolling and starts posting a few arrival times along the way. (You can also call 1-800-USA-RAIL.) But if you think you’ll grab the morning train tomorrow and actually be in Jefferson City at 10:18, you are very likely to be disappointed. Give it a half hour, which is reasonable under the circumstances. In a week or 10 days or whenever this excessive heat lets up, things are likely to get right back on schedule – but not tomorrow. And Amtrak won’t come out and say that.
There are some reasons. Even though this morning’s train arrived in Jefferson City half an hour late, you don’t want to tell tomorrow’s passengers go ahead and show up late. That would get complicated and frustrating very quickly. Presumably, Amtrak is not eager to blame the UP, especially since the UP is doing the right thing – the absolutely necessary thing – by putting safety first.
But the result – the wrong result for all the plausibly right reasons – is that the annoyed Amtrak passenger going from Sedalia to St. Louis isn’t going to know why his train is half an hour late before he even gets aboard. Not a great way to begin the travel experience.