News & Reviews News Wire House Republicans propose 64% cut to Amtrak budget for fiscal 2024

House Republicans propose 64% cut to Amtrak budget for fiscal 2024

By Bob Johnston | July 12, 2023

| Last updated on February 4, 2024

Spending plan would also eliminate rail infrastructure program, reduce other grants including CRISI program favored by short lines

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Passenger train with electric locomotive
The Silver Meteor from Miami passes through the Newark International Airport station on April 28, 2023. All Amtrak services would face cuts under a budget proposed by the House Appropriations Committee, but appropriators cut the most from the Northeast Corridor. Bob Johnston

WASHINGTON — U.S. House Republicans have released a proposed budget for fiscal 2024 that would effectively force Amtrak “to radically reduce or suspend service on various routes across the nation,” according to Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner.

The legislation marked up Wednesday also calls for substantial reductions in infrastructure programs benefitting passenger rail. Its release begins a negotiating process among lawmakers that follows a Memorial Day debt reduction deal hammered out between President Joe Biden and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

The table below shows that the bulk of the appropriators’ Amtrak cuts were inflicted on the Northeast Corridor, but because corporate overhead is also allocated to long-distance and state-supported routes, the entire network would be at risk.

Table showing Amtrak funding in 2023 and varying proposals for funding in 2024
Source: Rail Passengers Association

Under the “cuts to wasteful spending” category in the House GOP’s summary are elimination of $560 million from the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail program, although passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) has guaranteed $7.2 billion for state-of-good repair projects.

The Republican appropriators also seek to zero out two competitive grant programs likely to primarily benefit rural communities — the Federal Railroad Administration’s Railroad Crossing Elimination Program, for which $500 million is authorized, and the Department of Transportation’s RAISE (Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity) program, for which $50 million is authorized.

In addition, the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) program — which has played a particularly significant role for short line railroads — is slated for a cut of more than 50% from current-year levels to $258.5 million.

At a June 6 Amtrak hearing, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Republican leadership’s comments demonstrated an unfamiliarity with restrictions placed on Jobs Act funds that prevent their use for operations or regular state-of-good-repair projects.

Gardner said in a statement that under the Appropriation Committee proposal, “Amtrak would be forced to immediately reduce vital state of good repair work needed to reliably operate our network and defer many of the major modernization projects that were funded by the IIJA just over a year and a half ago. Amtrak’s IIJA funds can primarily be used only for major infrastructure projects and equipment procurements, not the basic maintenance, operations, and routine day-to-day expenditures supported by our annual appropriations.”

Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews is blunt: “This proposed budget does not take the task of governing seriously, ignoring the needs of hundreds of Amtrak-served communities in favor of scoring cheap political points.”

He added in his statement, “These proposed cuts are all the more infuriating coming at the same time as we’re seeing unprecedented interest in adding and upgrading passenger rail service from cities and towns across America. When the Federal Railroad Administration asked for proposals as part of its Corridor Identification Program, there was a massive response from states across the nation — Red and Blue, North and South, Heartland and Coastal. We can’t afford to gut these exciting new programs before they even get started.”

Trains News Wire asked the Appropriations Committee spokesperson why appropriators believed the Federal-State Partnership program was “wasteful” when many programs have the potential to help rural communities, and how it was determined to cut Amtrak funding below 2003 levels and set the specific amounts for the Northeast Corridor and National Network. A response will be added to this article when it becomes available.

Amtrak’s Gardner and RPA’s Mathews plan to work with House and Senate appropriators to come up with, as Mathews says, “a responsible budget that preserves essential economic and transportation services.” As the process continues through September, input from local and state officials is also likely to play a significant role.

33 thoughts on “House Republicans propose 64% cut to Amtrak budget for fiscal 2024

  1. Note the timing of this. Amtrak was about to push their $75 billion expansion plan.

    A bunch of legislators just told them, hold your horses; ain’t gonna happen. And they did it without having to oppose any of their potential local lines. Smooth.

  2. Cutting Amtrak funding now is crazy. Just look at how much the airlines are having problems to maintain good service. Amtrak in the past could be counted on to be a safe backup. My friend during 911 was stuck in St. Louis, Mo. and was able to use Amtrak to get back to Philadelphia, Pa. Amtrak added cars to all their trains and helped many people get back home. Today with their limited extra cars or engines they can’t even meet the summer demand for long distance trains. I agree the problem starts at the top. Amtrak management needs to change. Board members with railroad operating experience need to be nominated and approved to get meaningful improvement. Even if their experience is primally freight operations their experience would help with Amtrak cooperating with the freight driven railroads that Amtrak must cooperate with. There is much waste in all government operations with the Department of Defense the biggest offender. So let’s reform Amtrak but look elsewhere for those big wasteful expenditures.

  3. Let’s be honest: the leadership of both political parties and the entrenched D.C. bureaucracy are malevolent in their uselessness and are all to blame. Allowing the D.C. sewer to control it was our first and biggest mistake with passenger rail.

    Let’s put it to a national vote, in whatever method can be agreed upon. Shall we have a taxpayer-funded national passenger rail system at all and, if so, to what degree? Setting up the ‘to what degree’ options should be at least entertaining and would give all sides a chance to air out their opinions unencumbered by generations of D.C. parasites shaping the issue.

    It would give the suffering taxpayers a choice in the matter and a chance to cut 50+ years of crap.

  4. Amazing how so many rail advocates have expressed such an extent of outrage here, conveniently ignoring how Amtrak’s chickens are simply coming home to roost. In essence, Amtrak’s CEO Gardner and Board Chair Coscia lack the credibility to prevent such a hostile action in Congress. Other than snuggling up with NY’s Senator Schumer, Amtrak’s leadership has stubbornly failed to build relationships with other members of Congress relevant to its survival.

    The inconvenient truth towards Amtrak’s lack of standing on Capitol Hill is explained by Amtrak’s unexplained, non corrected internal failures, including:

    1) The lack of a full Board complement; other than the ex-FRA Administrator, Board membership is not composed of seasoned, experienced leaders to provide competent, credible stewardship to lead management.
    2) Corporate management lacking the requisite railroad experience to understand and demand accountability; incapable of credibly leading employees.
    3) Amtrak continues to suffer serious loss of revenues resulting from depreciation of skilled labor force in maintenance; still re-building competent staff in T&E and OBS crews. Equipment to fulfill consists is still missing during the high summer season.
    4) Despite the horrendous decisions at beginning of Pandemic to cut experienced crews and staff, the Board and corporate management eagerly awarded the same management with excessive bonuses.
    5) New engines and passenger cars sidelined rather than fulfilling consists.
    6) Yet, how is it credible for Amtrak leadership to even contemplate expanding routes and services when it is totally paralyzed to even maintain its current meager schedules.

    This move for cutbacks by Congress should not only be correctly interpreted as a sense of Congress, but also to trigger what must be done:

    a) Dismiss Amtrak’s current Board and nominees, starting with New Jersey-based real estate developer Board Chair Cosci; replace the Board with people seasoned experienced to fulfill the Board’s requirements pursuant to Railpax legislation.
    b) Replace Amtrak’s corporate management, starting with CEO Gardner from Maryland and Capitol Hill, with people experienced in railroad operations; passenger services.
    c) Place a hold on any planned or proposed expansion of routes or services.
    d) Require congressional approval:
    -before any reduction in employment; services;
    -to review and approve any bonus; to review and approve senior management hires.

    Nothing will change until it all changes.

    1. Excellent comments M.E. Singer. This should of and would of happened when David Gunn was Amtrak CEO but there were too many people using Amtrak as a ploy then to accomplish anything they needed. Then came the stupidity of putting an airline president in charge of a railroad, akin to turning the the nations nuclear program over to high school students. And all that happened was bonuses soared while trains were relegated to the bottom of the pile in terms of necessity, except the NEC which of course is the reason Amtrak was created…. NOT!

      Commuters should pay their fair share of the costs, just like the long distance passengers do on their trains and for the NEC. Sounds like double charging to me ay worst and major malfeasance at best…

    2. On the topic of change, Capitol Hill and the taxpayers need a good dose of transparency either offered up by Amtrak, or, in sworn testimony responsing to a demand by Congress to receive any funding, including:

      1) Explain how Amtrak’s CEO, Gardner, a Capitol Hill staffer, was pushed into Amtrak’s chain-of-command, despite designing PRIIA (to the cheers of NY’s Schumer and NJ’s Coscia) to financially punish state passenger rail operations outside the NEC? Why were NEC states given a free ride exempt from the excessive charges hitting other state corridors, e.g., California’s regional lines, despite operating a mere 457 miles between WAS-BOS? (Amtrak has acted like a butcher with both thumbs on the scale.)
      2) Determine how and why the GAO and OIG looked the other way when Amtrak created its unique accounting and financial systems that do not even meet the common requirements of GAAP? On that point, why is Amtrak allowed to manipulate costs and revenues, e.g., to shift NEC costs to long distance and state corridors? Why are NEC infrastructure issues a federal cost, e.g., Connecticut River bridge; yet repairing land slides by San Clemente impeding track is a regional and California issue?

      Going forward, Congress must ensure the position of Secretary of Transportation is no longer to be utilized as a political payoff for those who do not even know what a vestibule is, e.g., under Trump and Biden.

    3. ME Singer has hit on all the key issues.

      Coscia and Gardner need to go.

      Amtrak requires a working Board to oversee management.

    4. You are giving them FAR too much credit and benefit of the doubt here. One issue has nothing to do with the other. This isn’t about Amtrak operations or management. It’s simple partisan ideology and it being a Biden priority is also probably a contributing factor as well. Amtrak is “big government” and the reps on the appropriations committee are listening to their masters at Heritage/Cato. I would avoid conflating Amtrak day to day issues with what is a purely ideological and political.

  5. Questions come to mind. Are they out of touch with what needs fixing or trying to prevent competition with the auto centric culture. Are they friends with the auto and petroleum CEO’s. They surely are not tree huggers. Do they fear that the climate change that seems to be coming faster than expected will cause more people to start using mass transit and bikes. Better kill that competition before that happens. These plans to fix up and modernize all this non highway infrastructure must be a threat. It a good place for them to reverse the progress. I guess 2 years of infrastructure upgrades is all this country can afford. Time for austerity.

  6. Not surprising that this might happen. Republicans are on a slash and burn campaign and think they can move the country back to the 19th Century . These Republicans have that mentality that they can make the country operate and run like it was over a hundred years ago when the population was much smaller, needs and services were not as great as they are now plus an aging population that will be depending more on public transportation to get around as they ditch their cars .
    Expect more breakdowns, more accidents and derailments as well as intrastructure collapses, If a bridge or a tunnel buckles or track breaks , you can blame that on these Republicans who consider any necessary repairs or upgrades as wasteful or unecessary spending and of course putting millions of Americans lives at stake and in danger every time they travel on a train and the same goes also for cutting out repairs and replacements on roads and highways too. But as long as the special interest groups, the Wall Street capos, and the rich and wealthy folks at Big Pharma, the oil and gas syndicates get their money and payoffs courtesy of the Republican Party honchos it doesn’t matter how many average and middle class Americans get hurt because money spent on Amtrak, public transit and eventually roads and highways and also our air traffic control system are considered wasteful spending and unecessary accourding to the Republican Party who claims to be looking out for America and its citizens and which is a lie and a scam beling floated by them. America ? yes for the wealthy and powerful and billionaires and special interests
    Joseph C. Markfelder

    1. And no elected democrat ever got rich while in office. They would give their last dime for the children!

    2. No the Republicans and Moderate Democrats are trying to restore responsible spending in Washington, which as was said earlier, will come home to roost like angry birds if it isn’t done soon. Since Obama’s election, over 32 TRILLION dollars (plus interest) has been added to the national debt by Democratic administrations and what has it accomplished? Little, if anything. Oh some things the money was spent on was necessary like national defense, COVID, and the like, but the bulk of it was increases in welfare and other social programs which time and time again have shown to provide no impetus for users to get out of these situations or better their lives. Then you have Biden swinging for the fences with things like student loan forgiveness and other things that the majority of Americans can not afford. The thing people need to understand is exactly what Abraham Lincoln said during his time: “You can’t spend your way to prosperity.” However, you can spend your way to destruction of a civilization and if we can’t see that then we are blind and stupid.

      Amtrak has and is providing more value to the greatest part of America which is under-served in every way, as well as providing opportunities (at a cost) to see the beauty of America is a way no airplane, car, bus or motor home can, and it can be done more efficiently and environmentally friendlier than any other way except walking. Every other large nation in the world has a national, government funded rail network. We have one of the greatest private networks. We need a national transportation network to go with it. Amtrak can be that… but not as a pawn in Administration budget proposals. I say take some money away from the USDOT transportation funds (as a taxation earmark) to dedicate to an endowment for Amtrak, to provide the minimal level of guaranteed service and be augmented by yearly earmarks by Congress. If we can’t fund the program appropriately, then we had better turn the whole thing over to a semi-public national authority, give it a one time start-up infusion of cash and then let it run on its own after that, Run by Railroad-experienced individuals they would elect their own officers and be held accountable by the patrons who will vote with their wallets how they think service is going, But at least everyone would pay for their share of the costs, no matter where they lived… in the middle of nowhere or between Washington DC and Boston,,,

      One thing is true though… The only thing most members of Congress or their staffs know about trains, passenger or freight, is what they learned in elementary school… Trains go “Choo, Choo!” And mostly they don’t even do that anymore….

    3. If the Repos were truly on a “slash and burn campaign and think they can move the country back to the 19th Century,” they would be cutting funding for airports and actually increasing funding for national and regional railroading.

      But that would make sense, and the Repos seem to acutely allergic to that.

  7. Charles, you are not even paying close to what the cost of driving should be, the HTF went bankrupt in 2008 since then Congress has siphoned over $200 Billion dollars from the Treasury to keep it afloat add to that the Infrastructure bill of which 80% is going to hwys. As for the environment “Green” legislation I would much rather my tax $$ go to advancing this country past the oil & gas mentality to something more sustainable for the sake of future generations, Much of this environmental denial is due to American’s selfish fear they might have to give up some of their “luxuries” I don’t even have children but sometimes I believe I think more of these people children than they do!

    1. You’re right about the HTF and wrong about the other stuff. Highways should be funded by user fees — tolls, gas tax, registration, weight, and an EV adder.

  8. With the current management philosophy prevailing at Amtrak, I have little confidence that maintaining current subsidies much less giving them more money would improve things. The first thing to do is change the board!!

  9. Just like a broken record, a Party that allows a small group of right wing nut jobs dictate policy to their majority speaker, loosing young voters with stale ultraconservative viewpoints, only maintain their numbers by gerrymandering. How about eliminating the tax cuts for the wealthy, end farm subsidies to millionaire farmers & corporate farms, cut waste & redundancy in the military, end subsidies to the oil & gas industry & stop bailing out the Hwy Trust Fund it’s broke!

    1. How about ending the Green New Deal, which is corporate welfare raised to the millionth power, Democrat corporate welfare ten thousand times worse than the Republican FoxConn con in Wisconsin.

      Why should we pay for charging stations for EVs? When I fill up the tank on my Subaru, part of that purchase goes for building and maintaining the petrol station. Should be the same for EVs, not one penny more.

      GALEN — You come from the Left and I come from the Right. Something we can agree on, maybe, is that the government in DeeCee is too big and too costly. Both Mr. Biden and Dr. Jill Biden have bigger staffs than any of their predecessors. Let’s start by cutting both their staffs by 50%, and reducing the salaries of those who remain. Then so on down through most line items in the federal budget, Amtrak being one of the exceptions.

      Several times I’ve flown in and out of BWI Thurgood Marshall or DCA Ronald Reagan. The prosperity of MD and NoVA, the hude increases in the porpulation and the wealth of the DC suburbs, is your tax money at work.

    1. Mr. Hammer, Brightline has just begun operating. Let’s wait and see if it is truly going to be profitable over the long haul. I suspect that they’ll be asking for taxpayer dollars soon enough. At least since the invention of the private automobile public transportation in the U.S or most anywhere in the world has been government subsidized. Even Briightline ireceived millions in federal government grants early on. There’s been an unrealistic expectation that passenger rail in the U.S. should somehow be profitable and not subsidized when all other forms of public transportation are. This is in my opinion is the main reason the U.S. passenger rail network can’t compete with many other countries.

  10. “Wasteful Spending Programs”. Yet they would spend many hundreds of billions of dollars on “Just one more lane bro” as Alan Fisher (and Pensyfan19) would put it.

  11. Meanwhile, China continues to maintain its unbeatable global leadership in passenger high-speed rail transport with uninterrupted colossal investments.

    Dr. Güntürk Üstün

    1. PRC doesn’t have the competing interests of permitting, private property, environmental, or land use concerns that the U.S.A. does.

  12. If the cuts in question get approved, the effect on interstate passenger rail transportation would be catastrophic as the country is still trapping with many freight train derailments this year.

    Dr. Güntürk Üstün

  13. Please, let us not sacrifice passenger trains when America needs them most!

    Dr. Güntürk Üstün

    1. Dr. Üstün, if you would reply in to the comment instead of always putting in a separate new comment. (A) it wouldn’t look like you are trying to take over the conversation and (B) we would understand what you are referring to as in “Is that real? Truly unbelievable!” One can only assume you were replying to John Pickney above but we can never be sure.

      Not jumping on you, just offering an opinion of how we can better understand what you are writing about…

  14. I see one serious positive change in the Republican proposal. The National Network share of the budget pie jumps to 88.7%. Amtrak is much more than the NEC by itself.

    1. Which many a former Amtrak CEO and long distant passengers have tried to point out but to which the Anderson Administration (Amtrak) defended vigorously. Most government auditors could not make sense of it either and every time information was requested it was never responded to. The “Bonus Makers” knew that revenue from LD trains would not pay them the bonuses they desired so they went to FAP (Funny Accounting Principles) to accomplish their aims instead of making their bonuses through progress and innovation. And what we have is a by product of that type of thinking!

      Wick Moorman, the widely respected CEO of Norfolk Southern, took over Amtrak after his retirement from NS and train followers everywhere breathed a sigh of “FINALLY” we have someone who can make the changes. But his short tenure was an admission on his part that the current set-up is impossible even for the most experienced leader. It all has to go and be started over, this time with a mandate that Amtrak MUST FOLLOW its enabling act requirements, otherwise it will continue to be laughed at by passenger rail systems around the world as the “Great Pretender…

    2. There is nothing “positive” about it. This would gut the national network along with the corridor. What the intended goal of the house appropriators likely was is to essentially roll back the passenger rail provisions of the IIJA by making Amtrak and the FRA spend the funds on routine operations and costs – but the geniuses probably didn’t realize that the IIJA doesn’t allow for such. So without changes to IIJA (which the senate/White House would never support) it would essentially cause Amtrak to have to cut staffing and reduce service network wide since they can’t use the infrastructure act funding to shore up the loss of its normal funds.

  15. House Republicans have so far managed to cut about one billionth of one percent of federal waste, pork and corporate welfare. So go after Amtrak, ey? One of the few federal programs that does any good.

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