Trump Proposes Massive Cuts to Transit, Amtrak

Donald Trump. Photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons
Donald Trump. Photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

The Trump Administration wants to cut funding for new transit projects by 39 percent and slash funding for Amtrak by 23 percent — even as it raises highway spending — the preliminary 2020 budget reveals.

The White House has targeted a program called “Capital Improvement Grants,” which provides a federal match for major new transit projects, like Phoenix’s South Central Light Rail or Indianapolis’s Red Line bus rapid transit. Trump’s 2020 budget would cut the program from $2.5 billion to $1.5 billion.

The administration’s proposed budget sticks to the far-right talking point that transit projects are a local concern, but highway funding is a national priority. As a result, the Trump White House believes that only transit projects with high local funding can be eligible to receive some of the $500 million the Administration would make available that is not already committed.

Amtrak funding would also be slashed under this budget, by about $455 million or 23 percent. The budget calls for eliminating long-distance train service and replacing it with buses, an idea the White House floated, unsuccessfully, in its 2019 budget as well.

In prior years, Congress has ignored President Trump’s requests to slash transit funding, and the White House proposal is merely advisory. Congress has the “power of the purse,” and House lawmakers will soon put together their own budget.

Trump’s budget proposal also includes a 31-percent cut for the Environmental Protection Agency, the Washington Post reported. And the Department of Housing and Urban Development would be slashed by 16 percent, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

113 thoughts on Trump Proposes Massive Cuts to Transit, Amtrak

  1. Sounds as if he’s worried about re-election and plans to run for state legislature.

    Note today’s seniors still take theirs off the top, while voting for candidates who promise to cut old age benefits for later-born generations, and/or enhance their own.

  2. Why is he even president still? Just impeach the mfer already so we don’t have to listen to the cunt

  3. Thank god this’ll be DOA in the House.

    I have never once, ever, anywhere, anytime heard a cogent explanation from a RW type as to why roads = good, rail = bad. Is the smell of petroleum that intoxicating?

  4. I mean the real reason is obviously oil and auto $$$, but I’ve heard right wingers tell me trains are a thing of the past and nobody likes them, people want the freedom of driving their own cars. And no, this wasn’t the ghost of Robert Moses haunting me in my dreams.

  5. Sad but far too true. They deride rail as a 19th-century technology, conveniently ignoring that the first cars were built in the 1880s and the Wrights flew in 1903. Of course when you consider average speeds on American tracks, we really aren’t doing much better than the days of Casey Jones. Amtrak pokes along at a max of 79 mph – on good stretches without freight – while TGVs top out north of 300 km/h and who knows what the new Chinese trains can hit.

  6. 79mph when they are moving. (And there are many sections of routes with speed limits less than this.) Spending quite a bit of a time on a siding while a freight train passes by is not an uncommon experience with Amtrak.

    Many Amtrak routes are scenic, and do manage to fill seats even if they aren’t very fast. If only they could stick to a timetable.

  7. The more people who ride transit, the fewer people (cars) to compete with for lane space on roads. I would think people who “love” their cars so much would see that, and gladly vote for anything that gets more people off the road and into transit.

  8. So far I still haven’t heard anyone explain why the federal government _should_ be paying for local transit projects. Phoenix is one of the largest cities in America, and there is no lack of money there. If people in Phoenix (and Scottsdale and Tempe and Mesa, etc.) want more light rail, great. Let them find the money locally. Why should the federal government pay for buses in Indianapolis? It’s a city with a solid tax base – why isn’t it paying for its own transit? And while it’s much easier to make an argument for federal funding for Amtrak, it’s been hemorrhaging money for 40 years. The long distance routes get massive, massive subsidies and serve only a handful of nostalgia and leisure riders. These routes have only survived because of special interests and pork barrel political shenanigans. They are decades past their expiration dates. Almost any transportation project would serve more people than those routes.

    Not all transit projects are good. Not all trains are worth spending money on. Not all roads are bad. It’s almost as if you are opposed to these budget cuts because you hate anything that comes from this president. Oh, wait…

  9. Trump’s motto about transit goes like this: “I, personally, fly in Air Force One (or military helicopters) everywhere I go, so I don’t need or use public transit. Therefore, if I don’t need it, why should you?”

  10. The sentiment seems to be building In Washington toward asking (and resolving, once and for all) the question: “Isn’t it LONG PAST TIME WE GET RID OF AMTRAK?” Who needs ancient, slow and undependable trains in this, our “drive-and-fly” economy. You want to ride a train? Go to Europe or Asia, where they’re still state-supported. Here in the United States, we’re too progressive to tolerate the idea of subsidizing this obsolete and no-longer-wanted form of travel.

  11. I think the marginal local transit project — e.g. light rail on Richmond Ave. in Houston or connecting the light rail lines downtown in Dallas — is a more useful project than the marginal road expansion — e.g., widening the Katy Freeway.

    As far as long distance routes, I could go either way. $0.5B/yr. for long-distance routes is far less wasted potential than getting the Northeast Corridor to go from 8-car trains to 16-car trains (with only 4 total conductors for 850-950 passengers total) at consistent 115-125 mph speeds (no new concrete necessary).

  12. I’m not 100% familiar with the local geography, but the Katy Freeway is part of the Interstate system, correct? So while I can see that it might or might not make sense to spend money on it, at least there is an argument to be made for spending federal money on it. But local light rail? Still haven’t heard a good reason for federal funding.

  13. It’s a matter of individual tax burden, and the bulk of taxes go to the federal government. Should the federal government reduce taxes and encourage state and require local jurisdictions to increase taxes proportionately? Yeah, I’d like to see that, especially being in a blue state that contributes more to federal taxes than we receive…. but it’s not remotely so simple. Particularly when the tax cuts are primarily for corporations and millionaires who are not distributed evenly throughout the country, and when the tax cuts are temporary because it was done via reconciliation.

  14. The difference between rail in the US and rail in Europe and Asia isn’t one of ideology: it’s simple geography. Rail makes sense (and turns a profit) on the Northeast Corridor, which has European levels of population density. It doesn’t make sense in many locations beyond that. The only places that are still running long distance rail over thinly populated areas are Russia and China (anywhere else come to mind? Chime in, my railway nerds!).

  15. So, because it’s complicated we shouldn’t even try? Not buying that. And I’m also not buying the “we pay a lot in taxes so we should get stuff” argument, either. That’s not a good reason for local jurisdictions to go to Washington to beg for funds. Do you really think that the money is going to be spent more sensibly with DC bureaucrats injecting themselves into these projects?

  16. Mexico got rid of all its passenger rail service across the entire country in the late 1980s. Our neighbor to the north, Canada, still runs a few passenger trains across sparsely-populated territory – along with Amtrak, the days of Via Rail Canada’s long-distance trains are likewise numbered. We will do as Mexico has done, replace all our trains with luxury motorcoaches.

  17. To be clear: I don’t think long distance passenger trains are somehow inherently bad. I just don’t think that they merit massive taxpayer subsidies.

  18. People are not willing to see their local taxes go up enough to locally pay for infrastructure. You can see that with basically any proposed project in any jurisdiction with planned projects that are awaiting federal funds. You find a solution to that, which can pass with a majority in the house and 60 seats in the senate, and maybe you should run for President.

    Also, there are infinite examples of federal requirements for grant awards improving local planning and financing. The federal government not sticking to their own rules on their grant is why California just wasted tons of money on a train. There are endless numbers of small cities and counties out there than the state of California who are even more likely to screw up because of lack of expertise or incompetent politicians.

  19. “People are not willing to see their local taxes go up enough to locally pay for infrastructure.” True, but maybe if we got out of the habit of running to Washington, taxpayers might see a better connection between the money they pay out in taxes and the infrastructure benefits they get in return.

    “Also, there are infinite examples of federal requirements for grant awards improving local planning and financing.” Sure, by definition getting federal grants improves local financing. But does it ever help with the planning side of things? Or does it just add yet another layer of bureaucracy?

  20. I disagree. Certain city pairs outside the NEC are competitive with planes with HSR — Atlanta to NYC vía Charlotte, Raleigh, Richmond and Pittsburgh to NYC once NEC has been successful; California; Minneapolis/Green Bay/Milwaukee, Kansas City/St. Louis, Cinicinatti, and Cleveland/Toledo to Chicago; Houston to Dallas; Florida; etc. Expansions beget expansions.

    Definitely not as strong city pairs as in Europe, but competitive enough with flying (and in some cases driving) to pass the cost-benefit test. NEC, then connecting routes, then CA should have the highest priority.

  21. What percent of interstate highway trips are actually interstate? Not that many. Most interstate highway trips are local trips — e.g., commuting to work, doing errands. So interstate highways should be treated as local projects for this reason.

    A good reason for the feds funding local projects is that not funding them encourages governors to do bad projects that get funding (e.g., LGA AirTrain) instead of good ones that don’t (e.g., Astoria Line to LGA with infill stations at Ditmars/Steinway and Ditmars/Hazen). Heck, Second Ave. Subway is a much better project than AirTrains, but under your idea AirTrains would get funding because they go to the airport and Second Ave. Subway wouldn’t because it’s local. This leads to bad outcomes.

  22. As for interstate trip mileage, I don’t have the numbers to agree or disagree with you, but either you think the feds should fund an interstate highway system or that such a system shouldn’t exist. I’ve never driven cross country myself, but most of the food we eat does, so I’ll keep supporting a federal interstate system.

    I don’t follow you as to how federal money keeps bad projects from happening. If I remember correctly, the 7 train extension only happened because the city (not even the state, and certainly not the feds) put up the money. And while it’s not perfect (missing that stop at 10th Avenue), at least it got finished, unlike any train connection to LGA. The rush of federal money pushed forward the horribly misguided ARC project until Gov. Christie killed it, saving NJ taxpayers billions. If the feds hadn’t been pushing for ARC (to try to save Jon Corzine’s political career), we might have had a saner tunnel project from NYC to NJ. Instead, we have nothing because both NY and NJ keep expecting the feds to pay for a new tunnel. These two rich states could have built and paid for the new tunnel in the time everyone has been sitting around bickering about how much the feds should chip in.

  23. I think a lot of conservatives underestimate size of a city in its value of a being a good city pair. L.A., for example, though more weakly centered than San Francisco, is better for HSR than the city by the bay because of the City of Angels’s population.

    Also, there are, like, 17-25 flights/day each to Chicago from places like Detroit, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Cleveland, etc. So that’s a significant number of passengers (and airport relief) if nobody flies to ORD or Midway from these connecting cities.

  24. The current roads are a common good; the marginal road is not. Trucks don’t need to travel during rush hour when capacity is an issue to make deliveries.

    The 7 extension was a bad project funded (Hudson Yards should not be for commercial development as the Flushing Line is already overcapacity in Queens) by value capture, which is a tax on transit-oriented development. Second Ave. Subway Phases 2 and 2.5 — which relieves the Lexington, Broadway/7th, and Central Park West Express Lines — is a much better project (even if it is more expensive).

  25. @cjstephens
    Federal transit grants are given to states and MPOs and planning occurs at the local level. States have to prepare transit plans (with community input and local/regional contribution) and projects funded with FTA grants must be included in those plans. FTA doesn’t do any planning. They “oversee,” at a high level, grant spending (ensuring that taxpayer dollars are spent in accordance with regulations and guidance), but the layer of added bureaucracy is minimal. And, yes, there are FTA grants just for planning.

    (Not just directed at you, but in general) FTA funds much more than massive transit projects. They fund rural transit providers, transit providers for the disabled
    and elderly, ensure vehicles are ADA compliant, etc. There are local governments that decide they don’t want to participate in their region’s transportation district, but there are still individuals in those areas that depend on transit to function in their daily lives, and they should not be denied all service because of the shortsidedness of their local leaders. Transit is, at the core, about people. And the role of government is to provide services to the people. In this instance, FTA provides taxpayer dollars to the states and other designated recipients to spend on services for the people. There is no begging involved. It is money collected for this very purpose.

  26. and it’ll be DOA because of the GOP as well: all those unprofitable transcon lines are there precisely because they move people around within and between Red States*–heck, they want more, the Caprock Chief Dallas-Denver, Gulf Breeze Atlanta-NOLA, Pioneer

    that has the added bonus of more burden on Amtrak, so they can 1. keep up appearances by denouncing it and 2. tell their own state that they wrestled the Federal beast to give service to their deserving constituents (even Trump called them out on this shell game 2016)

    if Amtrak cut their biggest losses it’d in fact turn into the Blue State* Express since the industrial states of the union have much more metro, commuter, and regional rail to feed/distribute from intercity rail

    * states subject to change without notice

  27. Swap the income tax rates on the state/local level with the federal level and you’ve got a point

  28. It’s always nice to hear from people who work for the FTA. But, again, I’m not hearing what actual value getting money from the feds adds other than the actual cash. Plus, I think you’re being a little naive if you think that FTA’s influence is minimal. The FTA isn’t going to approve grant requests that don’t meet with the prevailing philosophy in the USDOT, so the interference starts at the onset of the planning process, even if FTA bureaucrats aren’t actually supervising how the asphalt gets poured.

    It’s nice that you think the FTA is serving the people, but the people are also served by their local elected officials. It sounds like you enjoy the FTA’s role in second-guessing the decisions of local elected. “Your governor, elected by a majority of the voters in the state, has decided that Project A is better for the people of the state than Project B. Guess what? The federal government disagrees. Here’s some money to circumvent what your governor has decided to do!”

  29. Sometimes, yes, they do. I’m not in favor of driving huge interstates through urban areas that would be better served by transit (hey, this is Streetsblog, right?). But even a person like me, who doesn’t own a car and rarely drives, can see the value of the interstate system. How do you think all that food gets from the farmer to your table? How do you think Amazon gets all those goodies from the warehouse to your front door? It’s not on the bus, and it’s not on a bicycle.

  30. Right, we need state-of-the-art trains, not diesel locomotives pulling coaches sharing space with freight trains. Trains aren’t obsolete, only the kind Amtrak runs in most of the country other than the Northeast are obsolete. The answer is to build HSR between the cities where it makes sense (that would mostly be 500 to 1000 mile corridors which have frequent flights between the cities. Here rail travel can be more than time competitive with air travel.

    Once you build the above, there will likely be enough demand for rail travel elsewhere to start connecting these regional systems. Eventually, you have a system where it’s possible to go even from LA to NYC on mostly high-speed lines.

    With the coming need to go carbon neutral, rail is more relevant than ever as it’s probably the easiest form of transport to make carbon-free. It’s as fast as flying for many trips, far faster than driving, and far more comfortable than both. Rail also serves the not insignificant number of people who either can’t drive, can’t afford a car, and/or refuse to fly.

  31. A high-speed rail line running from Massachusetts all the way down to Florida would be quite viable, and it would also serve more than 1/3 the population of the US. It would also encourage growth in the more sparsely populated areas of that corridor as it would put former isolated small towns or cities at most a few hours away from major population centers. That’s not the case now where these places are far too small for airports, and the big cities could be a 5 or 10 hour drive away. HSR cuts that time by a factor of three. For those who hate flying, Miami could be maybe an 8 hour train ride away from NYC, compared to 24+ hours now on Amtrak, about the same driving, or 6 hours by air if you count the connections to the airports, taxing to runways, etc.

  32. There’s a good case to be made for exactly this when a city sends far more dollars to the federal government than it gets back in spending. NYC for example does this not only on the federal level, but on the state level as well. Having the feds and NYS chip in more for the subway is really just getting some of our own money back.

    The converse of what you ask is why should the federal government pay for highway systems which in many cases function largely as local rural or suburban transit? If we’re going to say localities should pay for their own stuff, fine, let’s do it across the board. That means no federal money for any type of transportation, be it highways, railroads, subways, light rail, or airports. If localities want these things, they’ll have to pay for them.

    My guess is if we put that model in place, the relatively wealthier parts of the country will still have the rail and highway systems they have now, perhaps even more as the won’t be subsidizing highways in red states. The red states with sparse population densities will probably be back to dirt roads and nothing else.

  33. Justifying hundreds of billions of dollars for highways using the delivery argument is inane. The majority of users are single occupant private cars whose drivers have no other choice but to drive due to decades of auto Auto industry subsidy.

    Also, I was not specifically referring to the interstate system but to ginormous road subsidies in general.

  34. We’re back to “we send so much money to DC, so we deserve to get it back.” How about just sending less to DC and spending it ourselves?

    And you’re going reductio ad absurdum here. The nature of transportation is that it connects different places. Some methods make sense to put in the hands of larger government entities (interstates, air travel), some on local entities (your street). The question is where to draw the line as to which makes more sense for each individual example. At the moment, I think we lean too much on having the feds pay for and make decisions.

    And your coastal contempt for red states is showing.

  35. No, building such a line would not be viable. As the economics stand today and for the foreseeable future, it would be a financial disaster. Did you learn nothing from the California HSR debacle?

    And no, I’m not going to spend billions and billions of taxpayer dollars because a handful of people won’t take planes. A quick Google search shows me that you can take a Greyhound from NYC to Miami in 30 hours for less than a hundred bucks. Last I checked, Greyhound isn’t being propped up by the federal government to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

  36. Yeah, California taught us a good lesson, which is that you have to end the undue influence of NIMBYs. Also, we need to contract this stuff out to China or other places that can build it cost effectively. HSR should be about $20 million per double track mile unless a lot of tunnel or viaducts are needed. Even at $100 million per mile, Boston to Miami could be done for about $150 billion.

    And no, I’m not going to spend billions and billions of taxpayer dollars because a handful of people won’t take planes.

    It’s not a question of just people who won’t fly. You have an aging population, many of whom will develop heart or other conditions that prevent flying. However, the biggest reason here for building out a national HSR system is that air travel is not compatible with a carbon-free future. For that matter, neither are highways. Even if we go all electric vehicles, the highways themselves have an enormous carbon footprint to build/maintain compared to rail.

    A quick Google search shows me that you can take a Greyhound from NYC to Miami in 30 hours for less than a hundred bucks. Last I checked, Greyhound isn’t being propped up by the federal government to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

    First off, I have zero desire to go to Miami, ever. I hate hot weather to start with. I’m certainly not going to a place where it’s even hotter. Second, have you ever thought about sitting on a bus for 30 hours? If that isn’t self-inflicted torture I don’t know what is. There’s a reason the long-distance Amtrak trains continue to have enough customers such that getting rid of them is a political third rail, even though from a transportation standpoint they leave a lot to be desired. The reason is precisely because the alternative, namely buses, sucks a lot more. Road travel just isn’t suited to long distances. It’s bumpy, smelly, uncomfortable. How do I sleep on a bus? I know the Republican mantra is let them all take buses, which might as well be let them eat cake, but that’s not a viable alternative. The bottom line is despite the many issues with rail travel as it exists in this country it’s still something people want. That’s why I say let’s offer state-of-the-art rail travel. I’d rather have even a trillion or two go for national HSR than the $5.7 trillion and counting we flushed down the toilet on pointless wars since 9/11. What did that money buy us exactly? Because of sticking our two cents where it doesn’t belong we’re even more hated now, and more likely to get attacked, than if we had spent the money on domestic projects which would have eliminated our need to extend our influence in the Middle East to ensure cheap oil supplies.

    Oh, and Greyhound, plus everything else using the highways, is being propped up to the tune of many billions of federal dollars annually. Buses and trucks cause 99.9% of the wear and tear on our highways but pay only a fraction of those costs. That’s not even getting into the aforementioned wars to ensure cheap oil.

  37. I’m all for eliminating both federal and state income taxes since the end result is invariably that cities subsidize suburbs and rural areas. Good luck with that. The red states may hate the coasts, but they sure love our money.

    As for the question of where to draw the line, tell me why are you limiting yourself just to highway and air as means of interstate travel? Other countries include rail in the picture for lots of reasons. The fact our national passenger rail network mostly sucks tells me we need to upgrade it to world standards. Since by definition it’s for interstate travel, that means it should be in the hands of the feds, who incidentally should have very strong eminent domain powers to make sure we don’t have a repeat of California HSR. I’ll agree something like a local streetcar line or bus line should be funded by the locality. The NYC subway is probably somewhere in between. While it’s solely for travel within the city, it’s economic effects are far-reaching. You could make a case for at least the tax dollars from NYS and the neighboring states helping to fund it.

    And your coastal contempt for red states is showing.

    It’s not contempt. Since the general philosophy of a lot of voters in these states is small government and self-sufficiency, how about applying it to themselves? If someone wants to live a suburban or rural car-dependent lifestyle then they need to pay for it, not expect handouts from blue states. The majority of Interstate highway trips, for example, are local trips in single occupancy vehicles. Therefore, these highways, despite having “interstate” in the name, should be funded primarily by local taxes. Same thing with utilities. If a builder wants to build a new housing tract in a greenfield, let them pay for the roads and power lines and sewers, then pass those costs on to home buyers. About the only type of rural living it may make sense on a national level to subsidize is farming. There are lots of good reasons to not be dependent on other countries for food. Moreover, food can even be a net export. So roads in mostly farm states don’t really draw my ire. On the other hand, if people want to live in suburbs which grow nothing beyond grass, let them pay the true costs of that lifestyle, whatever it is.

  38. If we don’t want to put any money towards it, how can we expect rail in the US to not suck? A good analogy here might be if cars were limited to 25 mph by roads and other factors, instead of 80+ mph, and had to pull over to the side of the road constantly to let trucks pass. How many people would consider car travel anything but a throw back to another era in such a scenario? That’s exactly the situation passenger rail is in. I’ve heard over and over how rail has no place in the US for the exact reasons you listed. It seems a good number of people in charge have no clue what state-of-the-art rail can do. All they know are the lousy trains they see.

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  40. You are arguing to subsidize the private automobile and the massive infrastructure it requires and eliminate a subsidy from rail.

    It has nothing to do with ‘making sense’ – rather your own preferences.

  41. Australia still runs its Indian Pacific and Ghan passenger trains across very lightly-populated territory. The Indian Pacific train is a 3 & 1/2 day journey from coast to coast east to west and the Ghan runs coast to coast north to south. Both trains include upscale cabin class service as well as coach service . Canada also runs trains coast to coast east to west too.

    Here is information on the Indian Pacific train, and information about the Ghan train can also be found on this website. Note that prices are quoted in Australian dollars, which are worth somewhat less than the US dollar.

    https://www.greatsouthernrail.com.au/trains/the-indian-pacific

  42. You’re spot on. The pols starve rail for funds, micromanage decisions like the cost of food in the café car, etc., then turn around and say “see, we told you passenger rail can’t work in this country”.

    At the risk of sounding conspiratorial, I’ve seen this tactic several times in the business world. Somebody gets it into their head that the company shouldn’t be in the X line of business, but X is too popular for them to just pull its plug. Instead they squeeze budgets, impose unattainable goals, etc. etc. until X is so wounded that it goes under. Then they point the same fingers saying “X just wasn’t sustainable”.

    Where Amtrak’s concerned, the damage actually dates back to its creation in 1970-71. The Nixon Administration adhered to the GOP mantra of “cars good, rail bad” but also didn’t want to be saddled with being the people who killed America’s trains. Instead, they forced several poison pills into Amtrak’s enabling legislation, most critically the impossible goal of turning a profit within a specific timeframe. They knew that profitability could never happen, but the timeframe was set in hopes that Amtrak would survive just long enough to fail under a later – and presumably Democratic – government that would bear the blame.

  43. That’s misinterpreting how long-distance routes have evolved. It’s true that very few people travel end to end, but many use them for intermediate trips. The seat-turnover rate on LD trains is about 2.5, meaning that on average between two and three different passengers are using some parts of those routes. Many of the stops are at localities that don’t have convenient alternative air service, so if the LD routes go away most of those intermediate trips will be dumped on highways.

    By analogy, hardly any individuals drive I-95 from Maine to Florida, but huge numbers of people use it for intermediate trips. Does the lack of full-length trips mean I-95 should be shut down (or converted to freight only) and those intermediate passenger trips shifted to local roads?

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