Trump budget slashes funding for Amtrak long-distance service

(Source: Progressive Railroading 03/12/2019)

President Donald Trump’s fiscal-year 2020 budget request submitted yesterday calls for “restructuring” Amtrak and slashing the railroad’s budget to emphasize shorter distance routes.

Administration officials cited low ridership and large operating losses on longer distance routes for the need to restructure the national intercity passenger rail system.

“The administration believes that restructuring the Amtrak system can result in better service (at a lower cost) by focusing trains on shorter distance (less than 750 miles) routes, while providing robust intercity bus service to currently underserved rural areas via a partnership between Amtrak and bus operators,” the budget document states. 

The budget would provide $550 million in “transitional grants as states and Amtrak begin the process to restructure the network and states prepare to take financial support of newly created state-supported routes,” the budget document states.

The budget also provides $936 million in direct grants to Amtrak, to support investment on the Northeast Corridor and existing state-supported lines and to assist Amtrak in this transition, according to the document.

Funding would amount to a 23 percent cut — or $455 million — to Amtrak’s funding, Streetsblog USA reported.

Meanwhile, the budget proposes $12.4 billion in funding for public transportation, a cut of $998 million from the FY2019 enacted level of $13.4 billion, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

In a legislative alert newsletter to members, APTA officials said the budget fully funds Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act programs authorized from the Highway Trust Fund. The majority of the decrease comes from proposed cuts in the Capital Investment Grants (CIG) program, a discretionary and competitive federal grant program that funds projects for light, heavy and commuter rail, as well as streetcars and bus rapid transit services.

For FY2020, the Trump administration is proposing $1.5 billion for the CIG program, down $1 billion from current funding. However, the amount is greater than the administration’s FY2019 budget proposal and would allow $500 million to be made available for new CIG projects, APTA officials said.

In addition, Trump is requesting $1 billion for Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) program, a $100 million increase.