Budget Proposal Slashes Amtrak by More than 50%

The Trump administration this week released its federal fiscal year budget proposal and to no one’s surprise it has proposed slashing Amtrak funding by more than half.

The budget proposal also recommends funding cuts to rail-related transportation of nearly $900 million when compared with the last two budget cycles, most of which would be achieved by appropriating less money for federal agencies that oversee rail transportation activities.

For Amtrak, the administration has proposed cutting spending on the Northeast Corridor from $700 million to $325 million.

Support for the long-distance service would fall from $1.3 billion to $611 million with those trains being phased over in the next few years.

The budget document released by the U.S. Department of Transportation calls for funding of a vaguely defined account that is meant to transition long-distance routes into corridor services of between 100 to 500 miles that would be funded in part by state and local governments.

These grants would be known as “National Network Transformation Grants — Long Distance Routes” and would receive $550 million.

Amtrak’s overall funding will decline from $2 billion in the 2020 budget to $1.5 billion in 2021.

The focus on corridor services would be in line with the vision for Amtrak that the carrier’s president, Richard Anderson, and its senior executive vice president, Stephen Gardner, have been talking up for more than a year.

Indeed the DOT budget document uses language similar to that used by Anderson and Gardner in saying that long-distance routes have outlived their usefulness and Amtrak needs to transform into a corridor-oriented operation linking urban centers.

“Long-distance routes continually underperform, suffering from low ridership and large operating losses of roughly half a billion dollars annually,” the DOT budget document states. “Amtrak trains inadequately serve many rural markets while not serving many growing metropolitan areas at all.”

This of course raises the question of whether DOT is parroting Anderson and Gardner or whether the Amtrak executives are mouthing what DOT has told them to say.

DOT said it would release later this year details about the long-distance route transformation program as part of its recommendation for a re-authorization of the FAST Act.

The administration’s budget proposal also recommends $13.2 billion for public transportation, a $303 million increase from the FY2020 enacted level, but would reduce passenger-rail grant programs by $712 million for a total of $1.8 billion.

The budget proposes a 10-year, $810 billion plan for surface transportation reauthorization to replace the FAST Act, which expires Sept. 30. That is $75 billion above the current authorized level.

Public transit would receive $155.4 billion over the next 10 years. The administration stated that it would submit a comprehensive surface transportation reauthorization proposal in the coming months, APTA officials said in a legislative update.

The Federal Railroad Administration would receive just under $2 billion compared with nearly $2.8 billion budgeted in 2020.

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