Let’s take note of three developments related to the Amtrak line that serves Eastern Jackson County. At least two of them are good news.

New name, new image?

The state has held a vote and selected a name for the Kansas City-to-St. Louis service: The Missouri River Runner. That’s a curious choice, since the route only runs along or near big rivers for about half of its course. We had been pulling for ShowMeMO or Truman Service, two of the other finalists. Look for a new logo, etc. in the spring.

New spending, new tracks

The $8.3 million work to add track between here and Jefferson City – where most of the bottlenecks and delays occur – begins this spring and should be done sometime this year. About 60 percent of that money is from the federal government, and state officials have some hope that Washington will pay for yet more work under the economic stimulus package working its way through Congress. Most of the Union Pacific line from here to Jefferson City is a single track – full of freight trains – and that’s the single biggest reason for Amtrak delays. Extended sidings should ease the problem significantly.

Old problem, new gains?

There is some indication that Amtrak times in and out of Independence and other cities on the line are improving. It might be because railroads are hauling a little less freight in this down economy. That’s good for now – in a sense – but the long-term projection is for more and more freight traffic on that line.

A handy Web site – www.amtrakdelays.com – posts Amtrak arrival times. It doesn’t have every time from every single day, but our own informal checks suggest it gets the times right. A couple of months worth of figures begins to sketch out the picture.

Consider this measure: Are the trains starting out on time from Kansas City or St. Louis? Almost always, yes. Are they getting to their late or final destinations on time? Not consistently – but it’s better.

That morning train out of St. Louis is supposed to hit Independence at 1:35 p.m. and historically has been chronically late. Recently, however, it’s been on time or within a few minutes of it more often than not – with the delays of 20, 30, 40 minutes thrown in once or twice a week.

The train that arrives at 9:06 p.m. is about the same, usually on time or close to it. But then you days like this last Sunday: It left St. Louis on time, stopped in Jefferson City only eight minutes off schedule – and arrived in Independence at 10:54, an hour and 48 minutes late.

You get the idea – better but not there yet. When the day comes that we can set our watches by the trains, Amtrak will be able to sell itself as an economical, dependable and enjoyable alternative to driving and flying. That would be good for travelers.