By Michelle Bigelbach
The Courier 

Proposed Cuts to Amtrak Impact Rural Areas


With children out of school, the travel season has officially started. Whether families choose to drive, fly or take the train to their destination, memories are made as families spend time together. This summer might be the last chance families will be able to take the Amtrak as a mode of transportation to make those special memories.

Recent proposed budget proposals by President Trump show decreased funding for Amtrak, which would leave 140 million Americans without access. The proposed 2018 White House budget would cut funding to approximately $630 million in subsidies for long-distance Amtrak routes. These cuts would wipe out funding on the long distance train service to over 220 cities and towns and 23 states would lose train service completely.

These threatened services serve local and regional transportation for the communities they service. In Montana and North Dakota, Amtrak’s long distance trains connect 19 towns and cities on a single corridor.

“Millions of people will be left isolated, and those who suffer the most are those who rely on passenger rail to get to their job, for an ADA-compliant mode of travel, and for people where other transportation options are limited,” said National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) Chairman Peter LeCody.

The plan notes that long-distance trains are on schedule only 55 percent of the time and account for just 15 percent of Amtrak’s ridership, while representing 38 percent of the system’s operating costs. Long-distance routes have had a net operating loss of about $500 million annually over the past decade, according to the budget proposal. Vice President of NARP Sean Jeans-Gail said cuts to Amtrak would hit rural areas particularly hard.

“If Congress enacts this budget, our national passenger rail network will cease to exist. Communities and rail passengers need to clearly and loudly tell Congress that our communities and citizens rely on trains as important travel options,” said President and CEO of NARP Jim Mathews.

“The Empire Builder is an economic driver in Montana, and getting funding for it could put jobs on the line. I will work with Republicans and Democrats to ensure this Administration doesn’t forget about Montanans and rural America, while working hard to cut spending and reduce the debt. We need a budget that works for rural towns and supports the jobs associated with passenger train service," said Montana Senator Jon Tester.

Amtrak isn’t the only mode of transportation potentially being affected by budget cuts. The proposed budget plan would also cut $175 million in annual federal subsidies to support commercial air service at remote airports via the Essential Air Service program. The reasoning behind these cuts is that many of the flights aren’t full and require high per-passenger subsides. The budget proposes a “whole redesign of the program to eliminate discretionary funding and to focus remaining funds on those remote communities in most need of support.”

To voice your concern regarding the potential cut to Amtrak in our area, contact Montana’s Senator Jon Tester at 202-224-2644 or Senator Steve Daines at 202-224-2651.


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