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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Public transportation supporters blast Trump's budget

President Donald Trump
Photo – Twitter


Transit and passenger-rail advocates yesterday expressed disappointment at President Donald Trump's fiscal-year 2018 budget proposal calling for elimination of federal funding for some Amtrak and transit-rail projects and services.

American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Acting President and Chief Executive Officer Richard White said he was "surprised and disappointed" that Trump's budget proposals follow his stated commitment to introduce a $1 trillion plan to improve the nation's infrastructure.

The White House's recommendations to cut billions in dollars from existing transportation and public transit infrastructure programs would exacerbate the existing $90 billion backlog in state-of-good repair needs of public transportation, according to APTA.

"The federal government currently covers only 43 percent of all capital spending for public transit and any cuts will only add to the significant shortfall that already exists," White said in a press release.

Among the budget proposals are eliminating federal funding for Amtrak's long-distance trains and the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program. The budget also calls for limiting the Federal Transit Administration's Capital Investment Grants (CIG) program (New Starts) to projects that have already secured fully funded grant agreements.

At-risk transit projects include more than 50 CIG projects in 23 states, according to APTA.

"APTA calls on the administration and Congress to reject these cuts and reaffirm its support for these programs as part of the FY18 budget process," White said. "In addition, APTA calls on Congress to include increased investments in public transportation as part of any new infrastructure initiative."
California state transit leaders also denounced the transportation funding cuts in Trump's proposed budget, which proposes $16.2 billion for the U.S. Department of Transportation's discretionary programs — a 13 percent decrease from fiscal-year 2017.

"From San Diego to Los Angeles to numerous projects in the Bay Area, Californians across the state have benefited from a strong federal presence in public transportation,” said Michael Wiley, chair of the California Transit Association's Executive Committee and former general manager of the Sacramento Regional Transit (RT) District, in a press release. "Sacramento RT's south line light rail project, which was built in two phases, received two federal grants totaling $245 million. Without those funds the 15,000 people that ride that line daily to work, school, shopping and to the new Golden 1 Arena, would be stuck in traffic adding to congestion."

Meanwhile, the National Association of Rail Passengers (NARP) and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo lamented the budget's impact on Amtrak and rural and local communities that rely on intercity passenger-rail service.

"It's ironic that President Trump's first budget proposal undermines the very communities whose economic hardship and sense of isolation from the rest of the country helped propel him into office," said NARP President Jim Mathews. "But, by proposing the elimination of Amtrak's long distance trains, the Trump Administration does them one worse, cutting a vital service that connects these small town economies to the rest of the U.S."

Mathews said the proposed budgets would threaten the following Amtrak long-distance daily-service routes: Silver Star, Silver Meteor, Empire Builder, Capitol Limited, California Zephyr, Southwest Chief, New Orleans, Texas Eagle, Coast Starlight, Lake Shore Limited, Palmetto, Crescent and Auto Train. Service offering three trains a week would be affected on the Cardinal and Sunset Limited routes. The Gulf Coast line, now in development, also would be affected, according to NARP.

In his statement on Trump's budget, Cuomo noted that the budget would cut federal funding of Amtrak's Gateway Program, which calls for rebuilding the deteriorating Hudson rail tunnels that allow trains to move between New York City and New Jersey.

"This proposal takes a wrecking ball to the federal agencies that provide crucial support and relief to New Yorkers," said Cuomo in a prepared statement.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 3/17/2017