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Rail News: Amtrak

Amtrak may pull plug on Southwest Chief, River Runner


Amtrak might have to end or reroute passenger-rail service on the Southwest Chief and River Runner lines by year's end because of costs to install positive train control (PTC) technology, an Amtrak executive told a Senate committee earlier this week.

Amtrak Vice President of Operations DJ Stadler testified Wednesday before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which held a hearing on passenger-rail safety. Stadler gave a report on Amtrak's efforts to implement PTC on its network.

In his written testimony, Stadler said that in Missouri, Amtrak's Southwest Chief route runs on track owned by two host railroads, the Kansas City Terminal (KCT) and the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis. As Class III railroads, they are exempt from the federal PTC requirement unless the track is used by passenger trains.

"Because they're considered Class III, the PTC requirement is triggered by the operation of passenger trains," Stadler said. "These hosts have maintained that because Amtrak's trains trigger the PTC requirement, Amtrak is responsible for the cost of PTC installation, which amounts in the case of KCT to $30 million."

Because Amtrak can't afford that cost, and neither can the state of Missouri, Amtrak notified KCT officials that Amtrak service over the KCT track will end by the end of 2015 unless the parties come up with an alternative, Stadler said.

"We do not wish to cease service, but if this issue is not resolved soon, it could end in either the rerouting or termination of the Southwest Chief and the River Runner," he said.

The Southwest Chief route runs daily between Chicago and Los Angeles. The Missouri River Runner travels daily between St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo.

The Senate committee's hearing focused on PTC installation and was held in reaction to the deadly May 12 Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia on a portion of track where PTC has not yet been implemented.

In 2008, Congress passed the PTC requirement as part of federal passenger-rail safety legislation. Railroads required to implement PTC technology are facing a Dec. 31 deadline to complete the process. Many railroads have said they won't be able to meet that deadline, although Amtrak has said it will have PTC implemented on the Northeast Corridor by then.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 6/12/2015