Monday night – after work, after Scouts – I sat at the Sonic at 35th and Noland in Independence, sipping a strawberry limeade and trying to release the cares of the day.
I thumbed through the newspaper. Finally, at about 9:15, here came Amtrak, the Missouri River Runner No. 313, the afternoon train out of St. Louis. It was late, but probably not standing-at-the-depot-tapping-your-foot late. Amtrak later posted an Independence arrival time of 9:17 (11 minutes late) but a final arrival in Kansas City of 9:36, a tidy four minutes early. (There’s some slack in the schedule, as Amtrak gives itself 34 minutes to make the 19-minute run from the Truman Depot to Union Station.) That’s been the pattern with No. 313, often not quite on time but not late enough that anyone would likely fuss very much. Planes are 20, 40, 60 minutes late all the time, and we just accept it as part of the deal, right?
The River Runner goes back to its regular schedule next Wednesday after three months of maintenance work on the Union Pacific tracks it uses. Since early July, the morning train out of Kansas City has run an hour early – Hey, why not do that all the time? Or two hours early? – and the morning train out of St. Louis has run two hours early. The afternoon out of Kansas City has been pushed back an hour, and the train out of St. Louis – the sometimes pokey 313 – has kept its regular schedule.
How has that worked out? Actually, it’s been OK. The extreme heat in the middle of the summer caused speed restrictions that messed up traffic on that busy line, and that really trashed Amtrak’s arrival times for days at a time, but otherwise Amtrak’s posted times have been pretty solid. There are exceptions, of course, and every now and then a 45-minute-late train just happens.
So here’s the long-term proposition: Lots of Amtrak riders just love it and are willing to take the relatively slight risk of a late, late train. River Runner ridership continues to grow (fiscal year 2012 numbers should be out soon), but if Amtrak wants to draw, let’s say, more business customers, it needs a rock solid reputation for getting from point A to point B on time. For what it’s worth, my observation would be that people judge Amtrak on a somewhat tougher scale than they do the airlines, despite all of the hassles of flying. Go figure. That’s part of Amtrak’s challenge, too.
The new (actually old) times, starting Wednesday:
• Train 314, the morning train out of Kansas City, departs Union Station in Kansas City at 8:15 a.m., with a stop in Independence at 8:34 and arrival in St. Louis at 1:55 p.m.
• Train 311, the morning train out of St. Louis, departs at 9:15 a.m., stops in Independence at 2:20 p.m. and arrives in Kansas City at 2:55.
• Train 316, the afternoon train out of Kansas City, departs at 4 p.m., stops in Independence at 4:19 and arrives in St. Louis at 9:40.
• Train 313, the afternoon train out of St. Louis, departs at 4, stops in Independence at 9:06 and arrives in Kansas City at 9:40. That train’s schedule has been the same all summer.
The River Runner also makes stops in Lee’s Summit, Warrensburg, Sedalia, Jefferson City, Hermann, Washington and Kirkwood.