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Trump budget could end Amtrak service to Spokane, other NW cities, says rail group

UPDATED: Thu., April 6, 2017, 10:05 a.m.

Amtrak’s Empire Builder rounds a turn near East Glacier Park, Montana. The route could be axed under the Trump administration’s latest budget proposals, a rail passenger advocacy group says. (Justin Franz / Associated Press)
Amtrak’s Empire Builder rounds a turn near East Glacier Park, Montana. The route could be axed under the Trump administration’s latest budget proposals, a rail passenger advocacy group says. (Justin Franz / Associated Press)

Amtrak’s Empire Builder service, which runs from Seattle to Chicago with a stop in Spokane, could be axed under the Trump administration’s latest budget proposals, a rail passenger advocacy group says.

The Empire Builder is among 15 long-distance train routes threatened by $2.4 billion in cuts to transportation infrastructure, the National Association of Rail Passengers said.

The storied northern route began service 88 years ago, traveling over 2,200 miles between Lake Michigan and Puget Sound. In recent years it has struggled with major delays due to worsening freight congestion in the northern plains. About 448,000 passengers rode the Empire Builder last year, according to Amtrak.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said she’d be working with colleagues to defeat the proposed cuts.

“It’s disappointing but not too surprising to see President Trump slash investments on Amtrak lines in Spokane and across our state, especially at a time when demand continues to grow across the country,” Murray said in a statement released by her office.

Long distance rail plays a critical role in connecting communities and boosts the state’s economy, she said.

Visit Spokane, a local tourism group, is monitoring the budget process for potential impacts to the Empire Builder, said spokeswoman Kate Hudson.

“It’s on our radar, but it’s fairly early in the process,” she said.

Other Washington cities affected by proposed cuts to the Empire Builder route include Wenatchee, Leavenworth, Ephrata, Pasco and Everett.

In addition to the Empire Builder, the proposed cuts would affect Amtrak’s Coast Starlight route, which runs from Seattle to Los Angeles.

A minimum of 220 cities and towns across the nation would lose all Amtrak service should the routes be slashed, said the NARP.

Trump’s budget would eliminate subsidies for long-distance passenger trains and commercial flights to rural communities, reported the McClatchy News Service. Both could isolate small towns with few transportation options.

“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 Mathews said in a news release.

The transportation cuts would eliminate “a vital service that connects these small town economies to the rest of the U.S.,” he said.

NARP said the Trump administration’s budget would reduce transportation funding by 13 percent and include elimination of federal funding for Amtrak’s “national network trains,” which provide service to 23 states and 144.6 million residents.

The proposal would also trim $499 million from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, which invests in passenger rail and transit projects.

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said the transportation cuts were made because the administration believes them to be less efficient than a new $1 trillion infrastructure package that could be unveiled in coming months.

“So what we’ve effectively done is try to move money out of existing, more inefficient programs,” Mulvaney said, “and hold that money for what we expect to be more efficient infrastructure programs later on.”



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