Trump budget threatens PNW Amtrak service

The budget calls for $2.4 billion in cuts to transportation

An Amtrak Cascades train. (Amtrak Cascades Facebook)
An Amtrak passenger train. (Amtrak Facebook)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would cut funding for Amtrak lines that connect some of the nation’s most rural communities.

The proposal calls for $2.4 billion in transportation cuts, a 13% drop from 2016. If approved, it would eliminate all federal funding for Amtrak’s national network trains, the National Association of Railroad Passengers revealed.

An Amtrak Cascades train. (Amtrak Cascades Facebook)
An Amtrak Cascades train. (Amtrak Cascades Facebook)

Amtrak’s Empire Builder line, which travels between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest, is just one service threatened by the proposed budget cuts. The Empire Builder line has stops in Spokane, Pasco, Wishram, Bingen and Vancouver, Washington. It also stops in Portland, Oregon.

The budget also threatens Amtrak’s Coast Starlight line, which travels between Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles.

In its “America First” budget plan, the Trump administration claims Amtrak’s long distance trains “have long been inefficient and incur the vast majority of Amtrak’s operating losses.” Cutting federal transportation funds would “allow Amtrak to focus on better managing its state-supported… train services,” according to the plan.

It appears Amtrak’s Cascades line would continue service in the Northwest, even if Trump’s budget is approved. That’s because the line receives all of its funding from the states of Oregon and Washington, not the federal government.

At the very least, the NARP predicts the budget would cause 220 U.S. towns and cities to lose all Amtrak service. Among those are Bingen, Spokane, Pasco, Wenatchee, Ephrata and Wishram, Washington. In Oregon, Chemult and Klamath Falls are at risk.

The proposed budget would also cut millions from the TIGER grant program, which NARP calls a “highly successful effort to invest in passenger rail and transit projects.”

“This is really an attack on rural Oregon,” Sen. Jeff Merkley said. “It attacks key infrastructure grants that have been essential both to the coast and southern Oregon for the development of better rail service out of Coos Bay and the Medford area.”

Dan McFarling, director of the Association of Oregon Rail and Transit Advocates, told KOIN 6 News via email his group opposes Trump’s proposed budget.

“Except for freight rail, all modes of transportation are subsidized,” McFarling wrote. “Passenger rail in the U.S. suffers because rail is generally expected to cover right-of-way and traffic control costs with private dollars… Nearly every industrialized nation in the world… continues to make substantial investments in passenger rail service.”

Rep. Earl Blumenaur provided this statement regarding the issue:

“The hypocrisy should be astounding, but it’s what we’ve come to expect. Trump repeatedly called for upgrading our aging rail system, which would improve regional connectivity, cut commute times, and relieve freight bottlenecks—all contributing to economic growth. His budget proposal would do just the opposite, and would yank needed federal support from rural and small communities that rely on it most. Like many of his proposals, eliminating long distance Amtrak service would break yet another promise and hurt his staunchest supporters.”

Rep. Ron Wyden gave KOIN 6 News this statement:

“The Amtrak cuts proposed by Trump in his budget would make our country’s transportation challenges all the more difficult to solve,” Wyden said. “I oppose this reckless proposal that redirects scarce resources from infrastructure such as rail travel so the president can shovel money to defense contractors and tax cuts for the wealthy, which both shortchange working families and the environment.”

KOIN 6 News will continue to follow this story.