Missouri and Amtrak have spent millions to offer reliable, affordable passenger train service between Kansas City and St. Louis. Seats on the twice-a-day round trip Missouri River Runner are now mostly filled with satisfied customers.
But that could change at the end of this year. The federal government is requiring the installation by then of expensive collision avoidance technology, and so far no one is willing to pick up the nearly $33 million tab.
This situation must be worked out. Other passenger routes that go through Kansas City and St. Louis could also be affected.
Collision avoidance is the right goal. But the technology is complex. An extension of the deadline would allow engineers time to work out some kinks. It would give states and railroads time to figure how how to pay for the systems.
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Amtrak and Missouri are trying to shift some of the cost onto Kansas City Terminal Railway and the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis, which makes sense. The passenger trains use tracks owned by those freight railroads, so the railroads also would benefit from the safety features. But they aren’t required to pay and they aren’t volunteering.
Even working together, Missouri and Amtrak can’t afford the federal mandate. Congress must either have the U.S. government pay part of the tab, or bring the other railroads into the equation.