PHOTO: An Amtrak train running through Austell, Georgia. (photo via Flickr/Emmett Tullos)
President Donald Trump's budget proposal calls for a significant cut in funds for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), a 13 percent slash that could spell the end for Amtrak's money-bleeding long-distance routes.
According to Business Insider, Trump believes the funding cut would free up Amtrak "to focus on better managing its state-supported and Northeast Corridor train services."
One of the goals of the cuts, which could eliminate the California Zephyr and other lines used by travelers crossing the country, is to force Amtrak to address major concerns regarding its some of its most used lines.
The Northeast Corridor (NEC), which runs from Washington, D.C. to Boston and served nearly 12 million customers last year, is in need of a whopping $28 billion in repairs and upgrades, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The NEC track alone has gone more than four decades without an overhaul.
Meanwhile, Amtrak's longer routes are responsible for a bulk of its operating losses and have seen a recent dip in riders, with ridership dropping by as much as 12 percent between 2015 and 2016 on some lines. Still, the corporation doesn't appear ready to say goodbye to its long-distance routes.
"Amtrak operates 15 long-distance trains across the nation, and these routes offer the only Amtrak service in 23 of the 46 states we serve," Amtrak president and CEO Wick Moorman said in a statement. "Amtrak is very focused on running efficiently—we covered 94 percent of our total network operating costs through ticket sales and other revenues in FY '16—but these services all require federal investment."
"These trains connect our major regions, provide vital transportation to residents in rural communities and generate connecting passengers and revenue for our Northeast Corridor and State-Supported services," added Moorman.
Moorman said the company plans to work with Trump, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Congress to stress the importance of the long-distance routes and perhaps find a potential solution.
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The NEC's much-needed improvements were brought to light nearly two years ago after eight people were killed and dozens more injured when Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 188 derailed outside of Philadelphia. The May 2015, accident prompted Amtrak to install Automatic Train Control (ATC) systems on northbound tracks that warn the engineer to slow down before doing so automatically.
After securing a federal loan worth $2.45 billion, Amtrak also plans to introduce high-speed trains on the NEC by 2022. However, customers shouldn't expect a shorter journey since the track will still require improvements. "Our trip times will be around the same," Amtrak's senior vice president for fleet and rail initiatives Mark Yachmetz told Business Insider.
"It will save a few minutes and a few minutes are very valuable to us from a commercial standpoint."
While losing long-distance routes would be disappointing for travelers who use the lines for trips, their demise could benefit the millions of commuters who rely on Amtrak on a more regular basis.