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Jeff Fox: Another casualty of Washington's inaction

The Examiner

Amtrak ridership has plummeted amid the pandemic, and the railroad has responded with massive service cuts. It’s warning of thousands of layoffs, and it’s asking Congress for billions just to stay afloat.

Jeff Fox

Given Washington’s inability to get it together and address the felt needs of struggling small businesses and out-of-work families – let alone airlines and others pleading for help – it doesn’t seem that the nation’s passenger rail service is very high priority.

It’s important, I think, to at least note what’s evaporating in front of our eyes. The economic impact adds up.

Just 6,683 people – 18 a day – got on and off the train in Independence two years ago, the least used of the 10 stops on the Missouri River Runner. But four times as many did so in Lee’s Summit. Those cities are served only by the River Runner, which was cut from four cross-state runs a day to two last spring.

Kansas City, which is the western end of the River Runner, also has a 20-minute stop on the Chicago-to-L.A. Southwest Chief. Kansas City had 154,170 passengers two years ago. Altogether, the 13 Missouri towns and cities served by Amtrak had 724,488 passengers.

The Southwest Chief was running one westward trip and one eastward trip daily, but this month was reduced to three times a week for at least the next nine months. The Rail Passengers Association says that’s a $239 million hit to those states’ economies. 

Honors for St. Mary’s

St. Mary’s Medical Center in Blue Springs has been given the Healthgrades 2020 Patient Safety Excellence Award. The hospital says that places it in the top 10 percent of short-term acute-care hospitals reporting patient safety data. St. Mary’s also recently received the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association’s Get With The Guidelines-Stroke Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award, for its treatment of stroke patients. The hospital is owned by Prime Healthcare, which has 45 hospitals in 14 states. 

Area unemployment

Jackson County is lagging the state of Missouri in the latest unemployment figures, although those statistics come with a big asterisk.

The state says joblessness fell to 4.3 percent in September across Missouri, but those who have run out of unemployment benefits are counted as simply having dropped out of the workforce and don’t count toward that 4.3 percent. The rate was 5.5 percent last month in Jackson County and 4.8 percent for the five counties – Jackson, Cass, Platte, Clay and Ray – on the Missouri side of the metro area. Those five counties accounted for more than 610,000 of the roughly 1 million jobs in the Kansas City area.

But Jackson County stands out on wages – an average of $58,000 in 2019, compared with $54,615 in the five-county area and $50,530 statewide, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, an arm of state government.

Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s editor. Reach him at jeff.fox@examiner or @FoxEJC.