June 3, 2017 - TRA Newswire -

The National Passenger Railroad Corporation, known to the public as Amtrak, has submitted its 2018 fiscal year budget to Congress, warning that a Trump Administration plan to kill all long distance train service would cause havoc through remaining lines and cost more than its present yearly appropriation.

Amtrak President/CEO Wick Moorman in the General and Legislative Annual Report to Congress, called for a $1.6 billion request which is the full sum that has already been authorized by the FAST Act to help support the Northeast Corridor and National Network in FY2018, that starts October 1st.

The FAST Act also authorized several Federal grant programs, including the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement Program, the Rail Restoration and Enhancement Program, and the Federal State Partnership SOGR Program.

The Administration’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget request for the U.S. Department of Transportation proposes the elimination of Federal funding for Amtrak’s long distance services. In Texas that would mean elimination of the daily Texas Eagle service between San Antonio and Texarkana with continuing service to Little Rock, St. Louis and Chicago as well as the Sunset Limited which serves towns and cities from El Paso in west Texas to Beaumont on the east. Many small to medium size towns with limited transportation options would be affected. Killing off these trains would also have a downward spiraling effect on the state supported Heartland Flyer between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City. Up to 1/3 of the riders on the Flyer transfer to the Texas Eagle at Fort Worth daily.

Enactment of such a proposal would drastically shrink the scope of the Amtrak network, could cause major disruptions in existing services, and increase costs for the remaining services across the Amtrak system, according to the report.

Amtrak’s initial projection is that eliminating long distance services would result in an additional cost of approximately $423 million in FY 2018 alone, requiring more funding from Congress and their partners rather than less.

"If Congress and the Administration are interested in reexamining the scope of the Amtrak network and the services we provide, such options should be considered and reached through a deliberative and transparent process via the enactment of amendments to the FAST Act, which authorizes Amtrak and recommends funding levels", Moorman said. "Included in any evaluation of long distance service should be the consideration of a broad array of impacts on the national rail network, including economic and social impacts."

Moorman said that "Recent incidents highlight the vulnerability and fragility of (New York) Penn Station, as decades of underinvestment by all users at both the track and station concourse levels, and a massive increase in use, have created a very fragile state. Penn Station is the busiest station in America, and it now handles double the number of trains compared to when Amtrak took in over in 1976.

Moorman said "We encourage Congress to fund each of these at the highest levels possible. As part of a separate but coordinated process, Amtrak is developing five-year service line plans required by Section 11203(b) of the FAST Act and plan to submit those to Congress in June 2017.

In his request Moorman indicated that "In addition to the funding needs identified in this document, a number of policy issues merit Congressional consideration. Amtrak has sought predictable, dedicated funding for our fleet and infrastructure since its founding. It is one of the few Federal transportation modes not funded by a trust fund. Amtrak needs access to such a fund to realize its full potential. If this approach is deemed infeasible at this time, predictable funding could be provided through 'advance appropriations,' a mechanism used by several other Federal programs. "

"If we are to make meaningful progress addressing the massive backlog of deferred investment in right-of-way infrastructure and rolling stock that constricts growth and reliability today, we must secure additional Federal funding and an ‘advance appropriations’ would certainly be a welcome approach to do so", Moorman said.

The appendix to the report also includes a list of critical rail projects that could be undertaken if Congress were to pass an Infrastructure bill which would supplement the normal annual appropriations process.

Such long term Federal investment would help rapidly improve Amtrak infrastructure, spur private investment, create jobs, and launch new services to meet public demand, according to the report.