Across Missouri by Amtrak
My wife and I had used the June 2001 NRHS Convention in St. Louis as an opportunity to travel across the State of Missouri. So once the convention was over, we picked up a one-way Hertz rental and worked our way over to Independence, near Kansas City, where we spent some time at the Truman museum, homes and library.
This was to be our first trip on the former "MoPac" line between Kansas City [KCY] and St. Louis [STL] so we wanted to cover the entire territory. On the afternoon of Friday, June 29, we rode Amtrak #301 from Lee's Summit to Kansas City and returned on #306. Like St. Louis, Kansas City is a busy railroad center. Our train departed LEE about 12:30 (12:25) and arrived KCY at 1:15 (1:10). We were surprised to see a crowd of about 30 boarding there, of which 15 were a school group. Several families made the round trip as we did with 2-1/2 hours to spend in KCY. Union Station there is an impressive building, now recycled for a science museum and numerous other uses, and was bustling with activity. Amtrak has built a new station just beyond the building with escalators and elevator up to Main St. A display in Union Station indicated that Amtrak will be returning there about November 30th (2001).
When I had called Amtrak to reserve the trip I was told to pay the conductor $6.80 and obtain the return tickets at Union Station. Naturally the conductor knew nothing about this and said she must collect at least $7.00, or $3.50 each. We straightened it out at the ticket office upon arrival and noted that one doesn't get a 23-mile Amtrak ride for anything approaching $3.50 in the east! I wonder if we'll get Guest Rewards credit for the cash fares?
The return was on #306, the "St. Louis Mule" or "The Missouri Mule" as the conductor called it. The school group and many of the riders who had gone west with us were back on board and we were in Lee's Summit by 4:11. Some 25 detrained there and about 20 boarded. The rail network around KCY is interesting and one could photograph much activity from the Main St. Bridge, adjacent to the Amtrak station. A recently constructed double track flyover is located a short distance out of the station; I assume this eliminated congestion at a former at-grade junction. At Lee's Summit the top of the grade is visible just west of the station. The westbound freights come up slowly and the speed increases as more of the train gets over the hump.
Our return trip to St. Louis was on Saturday, June 30th starting at Lee's Summit on Amtrak #304, the "Ann Rutledge." A few days earlier I had checked out the "downtown" Hertz location which was a good move as they were at a hard to find spot a good distance south of downtown. The Hertz agent was very accommodating and said that she would be at the office by 7:40 on Saturday and would drive us to the downtown Amtrak station. We reached the location and soon had the car checked in and were at the Amtrak station where a large crowd had assembled on the platform. Train 304 whistled in about 7 minutes late with Engine 509 and 4 cars--3 Horizonliners and 1 Amcafe/Business class car. About 40 boarded at Lee's Summit and we were given the highball at 8:20 (8:11). When we boarded the crew loaded the Kirkwood and STL passengers into the second head car and all others into the third car. They asked those traveling together to sit together as "the train is oversold today." Indeed, there was a good crowd aboard and the train became very crowded as we proceeded east.
After our tickets had been lifted we headed to the snack car for breakfast. I had an AmMcmuffin and Suzanne had a bagel. I then explored the train and found that the other two coaches were more or less as delivered by Bombardier but our car had been redone with green seats and electrical outlets at each seat. Soon we began to encounter freight traffic but none of the many freights caused us any delay. Freights were met East of Lee's Summit, near Warrensburg, Sedalia, Centertown, River Jct., Jefferson City [the state capital], Osage, east of Hermann, Mile Post 44 (MP44) and at two locations between Kirkwood and STL. A train with NS power was waiting to come off the Missouri & Arkansas RR at Pleasant Hill to head west. We also overtook a mixed freight train at Jeff City and near Osage, we overtook two eastbound coal trains. At MP44 two freights were pointed toward each other, one of which would follow us and the other would proceed west when it had cleared. Incredible as it may seem, there were no delays to #304 as a result of this heavy freight traffic. The UP dispatchers did a magnificent job of keeping us moving. Nevertheless we did continue to lose time, probably because of the heavy travel.
I had guessed that we would meet westbound #301, the "Kansas City Mule," at Centertown. A freight was in the siding there and #301 was behind the freight. The conductor then announced "we are now arriving at Centertown which is right in the center of Missouri. Here we will meet the westbound Mule and exchange crews with that train. This will only take a few minutes. On behalf of the Kansas City crew, thank you for riding with us today." The entire process consumed but 4 minutes and we were soon on our way. The dispatcher then instructed #301 to back out of the siding so as to run around the westbound freight.
As I mentioned, about 40 had boarded at Lee's Summit. Ten were on hand at Warrensburg, 5 at Sedalia, 45 at Jeff City, 4 at Hermann, 7 at Washington and 3 boarded at Kirkwood. The conductors had some cash fares to sell as Independence, Lee's Summit, Warrensburg, Sedalia and Hermann are non-agency stations; some of the people did have tickets--ours had been obtained from a machine at New York's Penn Station (NYP).
The ride became more scenic after Jefferson City as we joined the Missouri River. The line is CTC east of River Jct. (the point west of Jeff City where the River Sub. and Sedalia Sub join) and we ran "left handed" part of the way from there as we were overtaking freight trains. The Missouri was still high, muddy and flowing rapidly with some debris going along for the ride. Sometime after Jeff City we spotted a pleasure boat on the river--the only one I recall seeing on either the Missouri or the Mississippi.
Lunch was enjoyed in the "Midwest Corridor Café,". The Amcafe had been refurbished similar to those used on the Metroliners and had a large mural of Detroit at night on the wall opposite the snack bar. The menu was interesting. It had some of the same items we get back east but the prices seemed cheaper. By adding $1.25 to the cost of many items one could obtain a "combo" featuring a beverage, bag of chips and a fudge brownie. I had the 1/4 Lb. "Polish Dog" with a Pepsi, chips and brownie for a grand total of $4.25.
Aside from the terminal stations, the nicest railroad buildings along the line were at Warrensburg, Lee's Summit and Kirkwood. At Lee's Summit the building is used as offices for the Chamber of Commerce and passengers board at an Amshack on the other side of the tracks. The Jefferson City station is on the lower level of a hotel, said to date to the 1840's; the original MoPac station is a few blocks east and is used by the UP. Kirkwood is located in a thriving downtown area opposite a park and is in active Amtrak use. It dates to 1893 and has been beautifully restored.
The train became more crowded as it proceeded east. A large number detrained at suburban Kirkwood, necessitating an 8-minute stop as only two doors could be opened. We left there 32 minutes late but arrived STL only 14" down due to a little padding in the schedule. A BNSF freight was waiting for us at the Grand Ave. Interlocking. At St. Louis westbound #303 was in the station on its trip from Chicago (CHI) to KCY. For reasons unknown, it sits in STL from 12:45 until 3:30, which would seem to discourage through passengers. Our eastbound train, which has only a 45" layover in STL, had quite a few guests en route to Chicago, Joliet and Bloomington.
It was HOT in St. Louis. Taking a shortcut through a parking lot, we walked to the Kiel Center Metrolink station and boarded a rather full 2-car train for the airport where we arrived about a half-hour later at 2:35, in ample time for our 3:35 TWA flight to New York City. Although it's certainly not "Union Station," the Amtrak station's location wouldn't be bad with a direct passageway or connection to the Metrolink light rail. We had enjoyed our rides on the several "Missouri Mules" and were glad to see the good patronage of these trains.