Amtrak and transit face steep cuts under 2018 budget

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WASHINGTON — Federal programs that took a hit last March when the Trump administration issued a preliminary budget proposal will find no relief in the final numbers for fiscal 2018.

The administration on Tuesday released a $4.1-trillion budget proposal. News media are reporting that several federal programs are being severely reduced. The Environmental Protection Agency faces a 31-percent cut and State Department programs are being cut by 29 percent.

The Department of Transportation fares a little better. The department's proposed $16.2-billion budget is 12.7 percent less than its budget for 2017. The Federal Railroad Administration's budget drops 37 percent and the Federal Transit Administration drops 5 percent.

The FRA's budget drops from $1.7 billion to $1.05 billion, largely because of cuts in Amtrak funding. Grants to Amtrak are slashed nearly 45 percent, from $1.4 billion to $774 million. That includes some $289 million in subsidies for Amtrak's long-distance train routes.

Long-distance trains are “a vestige of when train service was the only viable transcontinental transportation option. Today communities are served by an expansive aviation, interstate highway, and intercity bus network,” according to the budget document.

The budget office says long-distance trains account for the greatest amount of Amtrak's operating losses, serve relatively small populations, and have the worst on-time record. Instead, the budget proposal calls for some $1.5 billion to be funneled into the Northeast Corridor.

The Northeast Corridor “faces many challenges, and the 2018 Budget proposal would allow Amtrak to right-size itself and more adequately focus on these pressing issues,” the budget document says. In addition, FRA funding for redevelopment of Penn Station in New York is cut 64 percent, from $14 million to $5 million.

The Federal Transit Administration's budget drops from $11.8 billion to $11.2 billion, which includes $9.7 billion for transit formula grants. What worries the transit community is the elimination of the FTA's Capital Investment Grant program for new starts. The program's budget is cut 43 percent from $2.16 billion to $1.2. The grant program office will only fund programs that the transportation department is legally bound to support through full-funding grant agreements.

The 2018 budget eliminates the transportation department's popular Transportation Generating Economic Recovery grant program. The budget proposal notes that projects that vied for TIGER money still may receive grants through the Nationally Significant Freight and Highways Projects fund managed by the transportation department's Build America Bureau. The Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing and Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation programs remain on the books, but receive no additional funding.

The independent agencies should see little change. The National Transportation Safety Board is allotted $106 million, the same as 2017. The Surface Transportation Board would receive a total of $37 million, an additional $5 million to implement regulatory changes under the STB reauthorization law of 2015.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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