During an interview with Fortune magazine that was published today, Mitt Romney said that he would eliminate federal funding for Amtrak as one of his cuts aimed at balancing the budget:
So first there are programs I would eliminate. Obamacare being one of them but also various subsidy programs — the Amtrak subsidy, the PBS subsidy, the subsidy for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities. Some of these things, like those endowment efforts and PBS I very much appreciate and like what they do in many cases, but I just think they have to strand on their own rather than receiving money borrowed from other countries, as our government does on their behalf.
This is certainly not the first time that Romney has singled out Amtrak for the budget cutting knife. “Amtrak ought to stand on its own feet or its own wheels or whatever you’d say,” he told a crowd earlier this year. But, leaving aside that the cuts Romney highlights are not going to get him anywhere close to balancing the budget, Romney intends to slice Amtrak funding at a time when funding for rail service is more necessary than ever.
Amtrak announced earlier this year that it is on pace to break the ridership record it set last year. By 2040, Amtrak “Amtrak said traffic in the [Northeast] corridor could reach 43.5 million passengers, almost four times the level today.”
However, as the New York Times noted, Amtrak desperately needs some upgrades: “Most days, trains in the Northeast are full. Several locomotives and railcars are 30 years old or more. Aging rails, bridges and tunnels hold down top speeds and limit expansion of the network.” America’s freight train infrastructure is also deteriorating.
Already, the National Association of Railroad Passengers has warned that cuts to Amtrak that are being pushed by House Republicans “would be tantamount to shutting down the entire Amtrak network, because the remaining routes could not cover the system’s overhead costs.” Obviously, eliminating Amtrak’s funding entirely would have much farther reaching consequences.