Sometimes progress comes one spike at a time.


Work began this week on train tracks in central Missouri that should improve passenger service to Independence and other stops across the state.


It doesn’t sound like much: An added lane of almost two miles – a passing lane, more or less – on what is now a 25-mile stretch of single-lane Union Pacific track near California, Mo., this side of Jefferson City. In fact, there’s a whole lot of single track from Jefferson City to Independence (splitting to a more flexible double line about where it passes in front of Truman High School). That single line causes bottlenecks, leaving travelers less sure that when they get on a train in Independence they’ll get to Warrensburg, Hermann or St. Louis on time.


It’s a straightforward equation: Amtrak trains are short. Freight trains are generally long. Two approach each other, and the siding – that passing lane – is fairly short. Guess who has to pull over? The law says passenger trains get priority, but that often just cannot happen on the Kansas City-to-St. Louis line. With longer sidings, things flow more smoothly for Amtrak and the Union Pacific.


By the end of the year, the new siding should be in place. State officials have hoped for a second one as well near Strasburg, and there’s talk of getting federal stimulus money for that.


There’s another piece, too. The Katy Trail bridge still spans the Missouri River at Boonville, unused by trains or the bicyclists on the trail. The Union Pacific owns the bridge but has been blocked in plans to move it for a river crossing between Jefferson City and St. Louis – another bottleneck. This issue has festered for years, while the U.S. Coast Guard has patiently reminded the parties that, sitting there unused, the bridge poses a navigational hazard that must be addressed.


As nice as it would be to find the money to buy out the UP and incorporate the bridge into the Katy Trail, it just doesn’t appear that’s going to happen. This needs to be resolved.


Amtrak has made noticeable improvement in on-time arrivals in recent months, and the improvements under way or planned would make the service faster and more dependable. That’s what taxpayers, and ticket buyers, should expect for their significant investment in this service over the years.