JACKSONVILLE, Fla.- Amtrak service to Florida, including stops in Jacksonville and Palatka, are on the chopping block in President Donald Trump's proposed budget.
The president's budget blueprint, released in March, calls for federal funding of 15 long-distance Amtrak routes to be cut, including the "Silver" service trains that run between New York City and Miami. Also on the chopping block is a station in Jessup, GA, 45 minutes from Waycross and Brunswick.
"The budget terminates federal support for Amtrak’s long-distance train services, which have long been inefficient and incur the vast majority of Amtrak’s operating losses. This would allow Amtrak to focus on better managing its state-supported and Northeast Corridor train services," the document states.
Amtrak President & CEO Wick Moorman said in a statement that the rail company covered 94% of their "total network operating costs through ticket sales and other revenues" in 2016. The rail line lost $227 million last year, the lowest annual loss since 1973, according to USA Today. Most of that loss is attributable to the long-distance trains.
More than 70,000 passengers boarded Amtrak trains in Jacksonville in 2016 and more than 12,000 boarded trains in Palatka, according to numbers First Coast News obtained from Amtrak. Each city sees four trains daily, two running north toward New York and two running south toward Miami.
A proposed restoration of the "Sunset Limited", a train which ran three times per from Jacksonville to New Orleans (continuing to Los Angeles), is also not funded in the president's budget proposal.
"We’re very disappointed in the president's proposal, which would eliminate service to over 220 cities and communities across the country," said Bruce Becker, vice president of operations of the National Association of Rail Passengers, told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.
Amtrak would continue as a regional service in the Northeast, as well as in 17 states that subsidize train service including Virginia, Illinois, New York, and California.
First Coast News has reached out to members of the House and Senate representing the Jacksonville area for comment on the budget proposal.
A spokesperson for Congressman Al Lawson (D-5th District) said the congressman "is against eliminating Amtrak’s long distance train service and knows how important the stations in Palatka and Jacksonville are to Floridians."
Senator Marco Rubio's office did not directly address the Amtrak question but instead pointed to a statement from the Senator in March.
"While this budget blueprint offers insights into the president’s thinking about what’s important to his administration and the American people, it is Congress that will actually set the nation’s policy priorities and fund them. I will continue to review all the details of this budget proposal for areas of common interest we can work on together.” Rubio said.
We got a similar response from Republican Fourth District Congressman John Rutherford's spokesperson Taryn Fenske.
"President Trump has submitted his budget and Congress will now fulfill it's constitutional duty through a very deliberative process to move forward to establish a budget for the country." Fenske said in a statement.
We are awaiting responses from Congressmen Ted Yoho and Senator Bill Nelson.
The House and Senate will begin work on the 2018 Fiscal Year budget later this spring.
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