Trump budget plan for 2019 defunds Amtrak's long-distance routes - KTVQ.com | Q2 | Continuous News Coverage | Billings, MT

Trump budget plan for 2019 defunds Amtrak's long-distance routes

Posted: Updated:

The federal government has a suggestion for how to fix Amtrak's money-losing long-distance routes: stop giving them money.

The White House budget, released Monday, proposes that "States begin to share the operating subsidy costs of Long Distance routes with the Federal Government." It suggests cutting the federal subsidy for Amtrak in half, from $1.4 billion to $738 million. That would save the feds about $6.3 billion this decade, according to calculations from the Wharton School of Business.

The only problem? Many states, already strapped for cash, are unlikely to come up with the needed funding. State and local governments already account for 77 percent of public infrastructure spending in the U.S., according to the Economic Policy Institute. And more than half of states have faced budget shortfalls during the last two years, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

In addition, the political appetite for raising state or local taxes, low in the best of circumstances, is nearly nonexistent today. With tax reform that effectively made state and local taxes more expensive (by reducing their deductibility from federal taxes) and Congressional elections looming in November, the chances of any tax hikes approach zero.

Amtrak, for which a proposed funding cut is not new, expressed concern in a statement.

"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," the company said. "Amtrak is focused on running efficiently  -- covering 94.7 percent of our total network operating costs through ticket sales and other revenues in FY17 -- but these services all currently rely on some level of Federal investment."

So what would be the effects of defunding Amtrak? It would be "devastating on Amtrak's long-distance routes, likely forcing the abandonment of many, if not all of them," said Rich Sampson, editor of RAIL Magazine, which is published by the Community Transportation Association of America.

If just a few states drop funding for train service, it could throw an entire route into disarray, creating a "patchwork" of train lines that end at state borders. And flying in the face of the administration's promise to reduce regulatory complexity, it could well create a scenario where a single route would be governed by different statewide agreements:

"Ending Amtrak's national role would subject each route to separate agreements between each state and host railroads, potentially introducing varying levels of access and service across a given line," Sampson said.

While Amtrak set records last year for ridership, revenue and earnings, it still lost $194 million. That's due mostly to long-distance routes, which are unprofitable, while busy lines like the Northeast Corridor are money-makers. Long-distance routes served only about 15 percent of Amtrak's riders last year, but they cover a lot of area, serving half the stations in the railroad's network. In half of the states where Amtrak operates, they are the only Amtrak routes, the company said.

To witness the effects lack of money can have -- even in the presence of regulations -- riders need only look at positive train control technology. The safety gear, which Congress required all trains to install back in 2008, today exists only on three train lines, even though trains keep crashing with alarming frequency.

  • Most Popular StoriesMost Popular StoriesMore>>

  • Jay Kohn

    Jay Kohn

    Friday, June 30 2017 5:40 PM EDT2017-06-30 21:40:26 GMT

    Evening anchor and assistant news director

    Evening anchor and assistant news director

  • A Waiting Child: Montana teen wants a family for Christmas

    A Waiting Child: Montana teen wants a family for Christmas

    Monday, December 12 2016 3:00 PM EST2016-12-12 20:00:57 GMT
    Joey is this month's A Waiting Child. (MTN News photo)Joey is this month's A Waiting Child. (MTN News photo)

    Each new day is a blank page in the book of life, but Joey will be the first to tell you, he's ready the next chapter. 

    Each new day is a blank page in the book of life, but Joey will be the first to tell you, he's ready the next chapter. 

  • Our Apologies

    The page you requested is currently unavailable. Pages on this site are constantly being revised, updated, and occasionally removed. You may have followed an outdated link or have outdated pages in your

    You have reached a page which is currently unavailable. We apologize for any inconvenience. Please use your browser's BACK button to return to the previous page

Powered by Frankly

© KTVQ.com 2018, KTVQ.com
All rights reserved
Privacy Policy, | Terms of Service, and Ad Choices

Can't find something?