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Trump's proposed cuts threaten Montana rail service

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MISSOULA -

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget could greatly reduce passenger rail service in the United States, impacting Amtrak’s Empire Builder that runs through Montana.

According to Business Insider, Trump wants to cut the U.S. Department of Transportation’s budget by $2.4 billion, roughly 12.7%. The cuts would eliminate funding for Amtrak’s long-distance routes, and eliminate subsidies for the Essential Air Service program which helps fund commercial flights to rural airports.

The President's proposed budget, in the section for the U.S. Department of Transportation, states: 

Restructures and reduces Federal subsidies to Amtrak to focus resources on the parts of the passenger rail system that provide meaningful transportation options within regions. The Budget terminates Federal support for Amtrak’s long distance train services, which have long been inefficient and incur the vast majority of Amtrak’s operating losses. This would allow Amtrak to focus on better managing its State-supported and Northeast Corridor train services.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers is calling on people to “stand up for trains” following the Trump administration’s proposal to cut transportation spending by $2.4 billion.

According to the NARP, at a minimum, the proposed White House elimination of long distance routes would eliminate Amtrak services in 220 towns and cities, including a dozen in Montana. On that list for Northwest Montana is Whitefish, West Glacier, East Glacier, Libby and Essex.

NARP goes on to note that the proposed budget cuts $499 million from the TIGER grant program, which invests in passenger rail and transit projects, and would eliminate $2.3 billion for the Federal Transit Administration’s “New Starts” Capital Investment Program, which helps launch new transit, commuter rail and light-rail projects.

NARP President Jim Mathews released a statement addressing the cuts:

“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….When the President proposed a $1 trillion infrastructure proposal, voters expected that would mean more funding for projects like long-distance rail and new subway and light rail construction. These are the kinds of public works that spur private investment, create good jobs, and lead to economic revitalization,” said Mathews. “This budget does exactly the opposite.”

The Empire Builder has operated daily between Seattle and Chicago since 1939, originally operated by Great Northern Railway. It is a source of economic prosperity in the Flathead Valley.

“These working class communities—many of them located in the Midwest and the South—were tired of being treated like ‘flyover country.’ 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. These hard working, small town Americans don’t have airports or Uber to turn to; they depend on these trains,” Mathews said.

Both U.S. senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines have expressed support for the Amtrak, noting the large impact cuts could have in Montana and other rural states.

Earlier in April, Sen. Tester signed a letter, along with about two-dozen other senators urging the Appropriations Subcommittee to invest in Amtrak.

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