Trump Administration Budget Would End National Rail Network

The White House released a budget proposal today that would slash funding for critical rail and transit programs, cutting $455.6 million from Amtrak and intercity rail programs—23% less than the amount approved by Congress in FY2019—and eliminates long-distance routes, replacing corridor train service with subsidized bus service. The Trump Administration also recommends cutting $1 billion from New Starts Capital Investment Grants program—39% less than the amount approved by Congress in FY2019—which provides important grants for rail transit systems across the U.S. Overall, the Trump Administration is calling for a $5.9 billion cut to transportation, a 21.5% reduction.

“This is a disappointing considering the bipartisan agreement to increase funding in transportation struck by Congress a few short weeks ago, and fails to live up to the many promises that President Trump has made to revitalize and modernize America’s rail infrastructure,” responded Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “Fortunately, we’ve seen Congress ignore these misguided White House proposals for rail and transit for the past two years, and we will continue to advocate for real solutions to building a better national rail network.”

The budget explicitly admits the cuts to intercity rail as a devolution of funding from the federal government to the states, asking Congress for “$550 million in transitional grants as States and Amtrak begin the process to restructure the network and States prepare to incrementally take financial responsibility for the newly created State-supported routes, and $936 million in direct grants to Amtrak for the Northeast Corridor and existing State-supported lines. Likewise, the White House calls for refocusing on New Starts projects that have “high non-Federal funding commitments.”

While it is admirable to look to shrink the federal deficit, it should be noted that shifting essential interstate transportation investment responsibilities off the federal ledger and onto states isn’t the same as solving the problem—it’s avoiding taking responsibility for the problem.

The full budget will not be available until March 18, so many of the details are still unclear. U.S. DOT officials were very clear that they would not support federal funding for new Hudson River rail tunnels, with DOT Deputy Secretary Jeffrey Rosen saying those “transit projects are local responsibilities, and elected officials from New York and New Jersey are the ones accountable for them.” (The Hudson River rail tunnels are actually an interstate project with massive regional and national implications.)

Rail Passengers will be launching a response campaign this week, offering Members of Congress a better blueprint for a modern, efficient American rail system.