Rural residents will be the most severely affected.

Jess McHugh
April 11, 2017

Long distance train travel has long occupied a romantic part of the collective U.S. imagination, conjuring up images of western expansion, industrial progress and innovation.

Under a budget proposal from President Donald Trump, however, those historic long-distance train lines that have run coast to coast for 45 years could soon be a thing of the past, cutting off passenger train service to 220 cities.

Despite campaign promises from Trump swearing to devote federal money to supporting infrastructure, the proposed federal budget included cutting all federal support to Amtrak’s long distance train travel, the Washington Post reported.

These routes have been operating at a loss and have long survived thanks to federal subsidies. But lines such as the Empire Builder that runs from Chicago to Seattle or the Coastal Starlight from Seattle to Los Angeles are a popular attraction for domestic and international tourists, as well as a critical part of the mass transit offerings nationwide.

“We believe that these infrastructure programs that are on the chopping block in the budget are a critical part of the service transportation network,” Andrew Brady, senior director of governmental affairs for the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), told Travel + Leisure.

APTA, a non-profit that advocates for better public transportation, found that 81 percent of Trump voters opposed any cuts to the current investment in public transportation, the Independent reported.

“There’s been a lot of talk and big promises about investment in infrastructure...but what they’ve done is proposed very real cuts to very real infrastructure programs,” Brady said.

Both on the campaign trail and in some of his first speeches as president — including his inaugural address — Trump reiterated the need to focus on infrastructure. In his November 2015 book “Crippled America,” he wrote:

"Our airports, bridges, water tunnels, power grids, rail systems — our nation’s entire infrastructure is crumbling, and we aren’t doing anything about it.” During the run-up to the election, Trump reiterated these promises to rebuild infrastructure, particularly in the rural U.S. where he galvanized strong support.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Rural America will be the most adversely affected by these cuts. Trump swept primarily rural districts in the election, beating former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in rural areas by a margin of 26 percentage points on average, according to Reuters.

For inhabitants of those communities, Amtrak’s routes are much more than a scenic way to get around; they are the some of the only forms of transportation available.

“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. 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,” wrote Amtrak President and CEO Wick Moorman in a statement shared with T+L.

As many as 220 cities could lose all passenger train service under these cuts, according to research from the National Association of Rail Passengers, a train advocacy group.

Amtrak's California Zephyr passes a ranch during its daily 2,438-mile trip to Emeryville/San Francisco from Chicago that takes roughly 52 hours.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

“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,” NARP President Jim Matthews said in a statement.

Presidential budgets are often more aspirational than practical, however, and rail passengers will need to wait and see which proposals actually make it into the federal budget passed by Congress.

History suggests that cuts to the long-distance train routes could see support from Republican members of Congress, as they have repeatedly proposed and voted for similar reductions in federal subsidies to mass transit, and to long distance routes in particular.

“This goes back to a larger and longer ideological position toward public transportation,” Brady of APTA said. “These long distance routes have always been something that republicans in particular have been concerned about.”

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