President Trump’s budget wants to slash funding to Amtrak — even as the commander-in-chief harps on the need for rail investment.
The White House budget released Monday proposes halving grants to Amtrak by half, which would bring funding to about $738 million in the fiscal year that starts in October.
The federal government subsidizes long-term service for the passenger rail line, which stood at about $1.49 billion in the current budget.
Potential cuts to Amtrak come amid a rash of deadly crashes, including one last week that killed two of the company’s employees.
Trump’s budget notes certain lines — notably the northeast corridor, running from Washington, D.C., to Boston — have been financially successful in recent years, along with services co-run by state and local transportation agencies.
But services running farther distances “have large operating losses and serve a small number of passengers,” the budget says
Instead, the government would ask states serviced by those lines to chip in on the costs.
“This would make States more equal partners with the Federal Government, and would strengthen the responsiveness of Amtrak to the communities they serve,” the budget suggests.
The Trump administration asked Congress to approve cuts to Amtrak last year, to which lawmakers weren’t receptive.
Amtrak has been at the center of several deadly crashes.
A long-distance train from New York to Miami derailed in South Carolina last week after it was misdirected to a side rail and hit an idle CSX freight train. Less than a week earlier, a man on a garbage truck died after his vehicle was struck by an Amtrak train as it sat on the tracks.
Three people were killed last December when a commuter line co-run by Amtrak derailed in Washington state. Trump weighed in after the crash that it highlights the need for new rail investment.
Trump’s infrastructure plan — released in tandem Monday with the budget — also puts the feds in the backseat on overall infrastructure investment, hoping states will pitch in the bulk of costs with a mixture of private development.
But nearly half the states in the union are strapped for cash.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities determined last October that 22 states had shortfalls in their budgets last year.
The think tank also warned cutting federal grants could also be a harbinger because states rely on them to fund 31% of their budgets on average.
“They know full well that asking states to absorb more costs is not feasible, and the default choice will be to drop service,” Jim Mathews, head of rider advocacy group Rail Passengers Association, said in a statement responding to Trump’s budget.
The organization cautioned that the cuts, if approved, would affect 220 communities and 140 million riders.
“Just because these towns are small doesn’t make them fly-over country, though,” Mathews said. “They are the cities and towns that voted for [Trump] because they felt disconnected from the American dream, and they deserve a government that invests in them. Amtrak provides that connection, letting these Americans access critical services, jobs, and family.”
Amtrak maintains it’s “focused on running efficiently,” with nearly 95% of its systemwide operating costs for its latest budget year covered by revenue sources including ticket sales.
“While we have not yet seen the details, we are concerned that any dramatic cuts could negatively impact the more than 31 million people who depend on Amtrak across the nation, in 46 states and more than 500 communities large and small,” Amtrak said.