Amtrak routes across Kansas and Missouri could keep running under a tentative agreement reached in a dispute over federally required safety systems, officials said Monday.
The rail passenger service had threatened to stop or reroute its Southwest Chief line thorugh the two states and to end its River Runner service between Kansas City and St. Louis because of disagreements over who would pay to install safety technology designed to prevent traffic accidents caused by human error. The disagreement centered on lines used to route trains through the Kansas City area.
Details of the agreement are not final, but Amtrak said it’s pleased that a tentative deal has been reached.
“We appreciate the efforts of all involved to work together with the common goals of safety and compliance with federal law,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said in a written statement.
The Southwest Chief – connecting Chicago and Los Angeles – is the only Amtrak route through Kansas, and it makes stops in Kansas City and La Plata, in Missouri., near Kirksville. The River Runner runs four daily routes between St. Louis and Kansas City, with stops in Independnece, Lee’s Summit and six other cities.
A 2008 law signed by President George W. Bush requires Amtrak, commuter railroads and freight railroads to install the positive train control system by the end of this year. The technology drew national attention this year because of the looming deadline and an Amtrak derailment May 12 in Philadelphia that killed eight people and injured about 200.
Kansas City Terminal Railway, a co-op of railroad companies whose trains pass through Kansas City, told Amtrak it could not afford the estimated $32 million to install the system on its tracks. Amtrak had contended it was required to pay the cooperative only incremental costs of the safety system, but that position didn’t prevail in arbitration.
Amtrak Chief Operations Officer D.J. Stadtler told Missouri officials in a letter last year that the company cannot fund safety systems on state-supported routes, making Missouri responsible for costs for the system on the River Runner route. He said if the state didn’t commit to the costs, Amtrak would end the route. He reiterated that threat in congressional testimony last month. The state of Missouri hasn’t budgeted money for that cost either.
Eric Curtit, administer of railroads for the Missouri Department of Transportation, said that with the tentative deal, he’s hopeful the problem will be resolved this week.
“I will say everything looks fabulous today compared to two weeks ago,” Curtit said Monday.
Amtrak has said it will meet the deadline to install the system along its busy corridor in the northeastern United States, but most railroads have said they were unlikely to meet the 2015 deadline. Some members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, including Sens. Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, supported legislation granting railroads a five- to seven-year extension to install the systems.
“Any interruption to passenger rail service in Missouri would be unacceptable, so we’re encouraged by these positive developments, and we will continue to work together and closely monitor the situation until a deal is finalized ensuring that service continues uninterrupted,” Blunt, a Republican, and McCaskill, a Democrat, said in a joint statement Monday.
Kansas City Terminal officials did not return several calls from the AP Monday seeking comment.
The Examiner’s staff contributed to this report.