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Republicans want to shred Amtrak funding as the railroad plans a historic Sunbelt and Western expansion

Passengers board a train bound for Boston on the day before Thanksgiving at Union Station on November 24, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Passengers board a train bound for Boston on the day before Thanksgiving at Union Station on November 24, 2021 in Washington, DC.Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
  • House Republicans are proposing slashing funding for Amtrak and other infrastructure in the 2024 budget.

  • Amtrak says the cuts would force it to dramatically reduce or even suspend some of its service.

  • This comes as the railroad is planning its biggest-ever expansion following an influx of federal funding.

Republicans in Congress are proposing slashing funding for Amtrak and other infrastructure priorities in the 2024 budget. At the same time, the passenger railroad is proposing its largest-ever expansion after Congress sent tens of billions in funding as part of the 2021 infrastructure law.

The recent GOP proposal from the House Transit, Housing, and Urban Development subcommittee on appropriations includes cutting Amtrak funding by $1.577 billion in 2024, which would reduce the rail system's yearly federal funding by almost two-thirds. The funding cuts are in large part aimed at the Northeast Corridor that ranges from Washington, DC to Boston, with more than $1 billion in cuts to that region.

The spending cuts, which would put Amtrak funding below 2003 levels, would also undermine the railroad's major plans to expand its routes and improve infrastructure in the Sunbelt and West.

Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner condemned the GOP's proposed cuts, saying in a statement "if the proposed levels become law, Amtrak will have to radically reduce or suspend service on various routes across the nation."

Gardner added that 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 infrastructure law.

Amtrak proposed a historic expansion after Congress passed the $1.2 trillion bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, providing an unprecedented $66 billion in funding for passenger rail.

Amtrak currently serves just 27 of the 50 largest US cities. The expansion plan — which calls for a $75 billion investment over 15 years — would allow it to reach almost every major city, especially focusing on currently-underserved but fast-growing areas in the West and South.

Amtrak and passenger rail proponents argue that there are a slew of major cities that could be ideal places for intercity rail. Amtrak is proposing 39 new routes and upgrades to 25 current routes, boosting daily trains between Seattle and Portland, and offering new service between Houston and San Antonio, Cleveland and Detroit, and Nashville and Savannah, among other places in the Sunbelt, Midwest, and West.

And some Republican state lawmakers, including in Texas, have indicated interest in investing in Amtrak. The Texas Department of Transportation recently put forward plans to build a passenger rail line between Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, and San Antonio.

Passenger rail service is abysmal or nonexistent in most of the country. Both Houston — the fourth most-populous US city — and Phoenix, where the closest Amtrak station is 36 miles from downtown, have Amtrak service just three days a week, the railroad noted. Atlanta is served by just one train traveling north and one south each day.

Expanding the US rail system is also a key part of reducing carbon emissions from cars, trucks, and planes. Traveling on an Amtrak train is 46% more energy efficient than driving and 34% more efficient than flying, the Department of Energy has found. More modern, electrified rail routes have even less environmental impact.

House Republicans are also looking to cut significant funding from other infrastructure projects as part of the annual appropriations process, which must be wrapped up by the September 30 deadline. The lawmakers have proposed $1.7 billion in cuts to grants to states for drinking water and wastewater management, including programs to reduce lead contamination in water at schools and in underserved communities, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

Read the original article on Business Insider