DALLAS – Proposed spending cuts in the Trump administration’s budget for fiscal 2018 would significantly set back efforts to build high-speed rail networks in the U.S, railroad officials told lawmakers on a House panel.
The president’s proposed budget would cut all federal subsidies for Amtrak’s long-distance routes and eliminate federal funding in Amtrak’s capital budget for projects within the busy, congested Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C., and Boston, said Amtrak president Charles W. “Wick” Moorman IV.
“It’s a bad thing,” Moorman told members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s rail panel.
The budget plan released last month would cut the Transportation Department’s discretionary spending by 17% to the lowest level in 18 years and cut funding for the federal New Starts and Core Capacity grants to transit and rail projects without a signed full funding agreement.
The funding cuts for rail and transit could be mitigated by the administration’s proposal for a $1 trillion, 10-year program infrastructure renewal, Moorman said.
“A robust investment in intercity passenger rail could launch a new area of rebuilding and improvement that would simultaneously jump start the nation’s economy and provide the mobility our nation requires,” Moorman said. “Without it, we will be stuck in neutral, having prepared for a race we can no longer.”
Bringing the corridor’s rail system to a state of good repair would cost $38 billion, he said, noting that much of it was built between the Civil War and the New Deal of the 1930s.
The Trump infrastructure plan would leave the nation with “no train service, no air service, and lots of toll roads,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the ranking Democrat on the committee.
“The president’s proposal would take us backward,” he said. “There’s no real substantive move in it toward substantial federal investment in infrastructure.”
The high-speed rail systems that have been operating for years in France, China, Japan, and other countries show Americans what can be accomplished, said Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass.
“Robust rail service is absolutely essential for this economy,” he said. “It’s an embarrassment for those of us who travel to see just how far we are behind. It’s about time we caught up.”
The proposed budget cuts could halt work on the $25 billion Gateway project to replace the Portal swing bridge over the Hackensack River and railway tunnels beneath the Hudson River between New Jersey and New York City, said John Porcari, interim executive director of the Gateway Program Development Corp.
Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey have committed their share of funding to the Gateway project, but federal sources had been expected to provide half the costs for the two rail tunnels with a New Starts grant, Porcari said.
“Despite the strong cooperation that is already in place between national, state and local actors, it is not realistic to think that an infrastructure project of this magnitude can succeed without the Transportation Department as a partner,” he said. “The federal government has always done its part to build the infrastructure that builds America, from the National Road to the Hoover Dam to the interstate highway system, and this is what is needed for Gateway.”
Officials are currently awaiting word whether Gateway will receive a capital investment grant from the Federal Transit Administration, Porcari said.
“Award of these funds will be the last piece of the puzzle and then construction will be able to start,” he said. “Without it, we don’t have the money for the bridge project or the tunnels, and the work would be shut down.”