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JULY 20, 2017

Thirteen percent. That’s the proposed cut in appropriations for the Department of Transportation, specifically earmarked for the long-haul services of Amtrak, that President Trump has included in his proposed federal budget for the coming fiscal year.  

Far from increasing Amtrak’s budget, let alone leaving it at current levels, the Administration’s proposal reflects a long-time desire by right-wing conservatives to reduce rail services in the United States.  

The reason for that conservative effort is hard to discern. Is it because Amtrak services a mass audience, and therefore violates principles espoused by the late Ayn Rand? Does it permit poor people to travel in place of taking expensive air flights? Is it a facility used heavily by disabled persons? And are disabled persons likely to vote Democratic? If you can explain why the political right is so threatened by Amtrak, you have a better understanding of American politics than the rest of us.

Why is this devastating reduction in support for Amtrak so little discussed? It is undoubtedly because recent attention paid to health care legislation has served to divert attention from Trump’s proposed federal budget, to be voted upon in just a few short weeks. There has scarcely been a single mention in the press of the possibility that Amtrak is about to be fatally injured by a severe cut in its operating budget.

It behooves all of us to fight this act of severe damage to our economy and daily life. Most of us have benefited considerably by the remaining presence of at least a few small rail services in our country. Many of us have opted for a train between Boston and New York, or New York and Washington, D.C., in place of an expensive, time-wasting flight by airline. Most of us have looked with envy at the decision of China to create major new high-speed rail routes in that country. Most of us have looked on with wonder at the increasing availability of high-speed rail in Spain, Greece, and Germany.  

And nearly all of us are in favor of new job-creating infrastructure of the sort supposedly favored by President Trump, and now casually cast aside by him in his actual budget decisions.

Despite his constant praise of infrastructure legislation, the President is proposing a cut in actual infrastructure advocated by his right-wing advisors. Does he know what he is doing?

The rest of us must fight for Amtrak. We must let our congressional representatives know that we will remember their vote if they should permit this act of injury to our nation. And that we will oppose their return to all the benefits and privileges of Congress if they should fail to restore this proposed cut in the badly needed funds for Amtrak.