Around the country, over one-third of Amtrak passengers ride routes that receive substantial funding support from states. These 15 states understand the importance of passenger rail to their residents, businesses, and economies, and have invested in these routes to maintain and improve service. These routes are referred to as state-supported corridors and in 2010, they carried over 9 million passengers, about one-third of Amtrak's annual ridership. A new budget proposal passed by the House of Representatives earlier this month proposes to eliminate every last one of them. The same budget proposal cuts funding for the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail program to zero.
Criticism of Amtrak commonly focuses in on its federal subsidies. However, these 15 states have taken it upon themselves to supplement scarce federal resources and make critical investments in these corridors to improve service and grow ridership. The House budget proposal unfairly punishes these states for this and places the burden of budget cuts squarely on the shoulders of passengers on these state-supported routes.
Please contact your elected officials and tell them to fight this budget proposal that reverses decades of progress to vital passenger rail corridors in all corners of the country. Visit www.StandUpForTrains.org today to send your Senators, Representative, and President Obama the message that you want America to have a stronger national passenger rail system.
On September 7th, the House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee approved a budget for fiscal year 2012. This budget would determine the federal government's contribution to surface transportation programs over the next fiscal year, including highways, public transit, bicycle trails, safety programs, etc. The budget proposes to cut spending on highways and transit by 34%, and limit federal spending to the amount sustainable by revenues into the Highway Trust Fund. In total, the bill includes $55.2 billion in spending, which is about $19.8 billion less than President Obama's original budget request. It completely eliminates the funding for the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail program as well as the TIGER program, which provides discretionary federal grants for innovative, multi-modal transportation projects.
Some of the most drastic spending cuts this budget proposes are to passenger rail. The bill would cut Amtrak's operating budget from $563 million to $227 million, a cut of over 60%, and reduce their capital budget from $922 million to $898 million. The budget includes a provision that would disallow Amtrak from using any federal operating funds on state-supported routes, effectively eliminating them and punishing those states that have worked with Amtrak for decades to maintain and upgrade their passenger rail service.
The States for Passenger Rail Coalition, an alliance of 33 state leaders who work together to support the development and growth of intercity passenger rail service, have stated that they "cannot shoulder the full cost of passenger rail service." Amtrak warned in their own press release that if passed by the Senate, the bill "will eliminate nearly 150 weekday state-supported trains and negatively impact the more than nine million passengers who ride those trains each year and the communities they live in."
This appropriations bill is completely out of touch with national trends and attitudes. Amtrak is on target to serve a record number (30 million) of passenger this fiscal year, which ends September 30th, and June 2011 was Amtrak's 20th consecutive month of record year-over-year ridership, a streak that began in November 2009. In fact, Amtrak has set annual ridership records in seven of the last eight fiscal years. At the same time, people around the country are driving less, reducing our dependence on foreign oil.
The 15 states that have made a commitment to supporting Amtrak service are: California, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.
Download the legislation text (PDF)
View a list of approved amendments
Download a table comparing the draft legislation funding levels with President Obama's request and present FY 2011 levels (PDF)
Image: House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's "A New Direction" report (PDF)