MIPRC asks Midwest members of Congress to protect funding for long-distance trains
When the Trump Administration released its budget outline last month, it proposed eliminating funding for all of Amtrak’s long-distance trains for Fiscal Year 2018, and cutting $499 million for the popular TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant program immediately as part of the budget deal being negotiated now for the remainder of the current fiscal year.
The Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission on April 6 sent a letter to all Midwestern members of Congress calling on them to oppose those cuts, and instead support full funding of all passenger rail‐related provisions at the authorized levels within the FAST Act – including Amtrak and the passenger rail‐related grant programs – and continuation of funding for the vital TIGER grant program. MIPRC also asked them to communicate their support of passenger rail in the Midwest to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees and applicable subcommittees.
In the letter, MIPRC pointed out that, at a minimum, elimination of long distance routes would result in 50 Midwestern towns and cities losing Amtrak service entirely:
• Indiana: Connersville, Elkhart, South Bend and Waterloo.
• Iowa: Burlington, Creston, Fort Madison, Mount Pleasant, Osceola and Ottumwa.
• Kansas: Dodge City, Garden City, Hutchinson, Lawrence, Newton and Topeka.
• Minnesota: Detroit Lakes, Red Wing, St. Cloud, Staples, the Twin Cities (St. Paul/Minneapolis) and Winona.
• Missouri: La Plata, Arcadia and Poplar Bluff.
• Nebraska: Hastings, Holdrege, Lincoln, McCook and Omaha.
• North Dakota: Devils Lake, Fargo, Grand Forks, Minot, Rugby, Stanley and Williston.
• Ohio: Alliance, Bryan, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Elyria, Sandusky and Toledo.
• Wisconsin: Columbus, La Crosse, Portage, Tomah and Wisconsin Dells.
The letter also notes three reasons why they should reject cuts to funding of long-distance trains.
Midwestern communities depend on long‐distance trains. Even if a town has just one stop daily in each direction, long‐distance trains are an essential service to many rural communities Trains provide connections within and between regions, and economic development opportunities.
Also, passengers don’t distinguish between “state‐supported” and “long‐distance” trains; they just take the train to where they need to go. According to Amtrak, well over a half‐million passengers (663,948) connected from Midwestern state‐supported trains to long‐distance trains in Chicago, Kansas City and St. Louis over the past five years (FFY 2012‐FFY 2016). The National Association of Railroad Passengers estimates that under the proposed cuts at least 220 cities nationwide would lose all train service.
Long‐distance trains are popular. Ridership on the Midwest’s eight long‐distance routes increased 16 percent in the past 10 years. And in just one year, between October 2015 and October 2016, ridership rose almost 4 percent on these routes. MIPRC’s surveys of Midwestern colleges and universities (here and here) underscores this point: more than half of all respondents said they would take the train more frequently to and from school if more frequent service was available.
Losing long‐distance trains would harm state‐supported trains and could devastate other infrastructure investments. If long‐distance trains disappear, so does the cost sharing between them and state-supported routes for Amtrak’s “back of the house” functions like ticketing and reservations, and critical infrastructure like Chicago Union Station, where $1 billion in improvements is planned. Eliminating long‐distance service would put an undue burden on the states with state‐supported service.
We urge you to join the effort, too. Please contact your members of Congress – along with your state legislators and local officials – and urge them to support full funding of Amtrak and the TIGER grant program.