SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – For the first time in nearly 60 years, travelers may soon be able to ride the rails in and out of the Ozarks.
MoDOT is looking into the possibility of starting Amtrak passenger train service between Kansas City and Springfield, and possibly Branson.
If the service to southwest Missouri becomes a reality, the Ozarks would be tied to the rest of the national Amtrak system. At Union Station in Kansas City, travelers could transfer to other passenger trains to Chicago, Los Angeles, and other destinations across the country.
The service is still far from becoming a reality. As a first step, the Missouri Department of Transportation is requesting $500,000 as part of the Federal Railroad Administration’s Corridor ID program. The money would study the feasibility of the proposed Springfield service, as well as a new route between Kansas City and Saint Joseph, extending a route out of Chicago to Hannibal, and adding additional trains to the current River Runner Route which runs between Kansas City, Jefferson City, and Saint Louis.
A new rail service would provide an option for travelers not afforded since 1967 when the last Frisco passenger trains departed downtown Springfield. As seen on the carrier’s system map, the Springfield metro is currently one of the largest in the nation not on the Amtrak network. The nearest Amtrak stations are more than 100 miles away in Kansas City, Warrensburg, and Sedalia.
According to the proposal, the service would operate on BNSF Railway freight lines between Kansas City and Springfield by way of Lamar and Ash Grove. A connection to Branson would be made over the Missouri & Northern Arkansas Railroad- the same tracks used by Branson Scenic Railway. The plans do not specify where, if any, intermediate stops would made between Kansas City and Springfield/Branson.
The study would be the first step in a long process, and no timeline has been released for when the trains could start rolling. However, if the studies show the proposed service would be feasible, some of the money to get the trains rolling would already be in place. The state has already included $76 million in federal funding and $38 million in state funding in its 2025 fiscal year budget request. The money could pay for things like upgrades to freight tracks, improvements to road crossings and signals, construction of stations, and purchase of train locomotives and cars.
This wouldn’t be the first time Amtrak and MoDOT have studied the possibility of passenger trains returning to the Ozarks. A 2007 project looked into the feasibility of a service linking Springfield with Saint Louis by way of Lebanon, Rolla, and Sullivan. The final report stated several million dollars would have been needed to pay for upgrades to the BNSF Railway and Union Pacific freight lines the trains would have utilized. It was determined, at that point, that the ridership numbers would not have justified the expenditures. In the 1990s, the state and Amtrak conducted a similar study for a service that would have linked Saint Louis and Springfield with Tulsa and Oklahoma City.