Friday, Sep 22, 2017
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Politics

Demonstrators protest proposed Amtrak cuts

Budget put forth by Trump administration would slash funds, calls for Amtrak to focus on greater efficiency

As a 13-year-old, State Rep. Michael Sheehy (D., Oregon) took the train from Toledo to Cincinnati to attend Boys State, a government leadership program that was hosted at Xavier University.

Boys State helped inspire Mr. Sheehy to pursue a career in public service. But the train ride itself taught him something equally important — to appreciate the geographic diversity of his home state.

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Demonstrators gather at the Children’s Park near the Amtrak Toledo Station. The rally protested President Trump’s budget that would cut funding for Amtrak.

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“I found out there were hills in Ohio,” Mr. Sheehy said with a laugh. “I remember seeing how the geography of northwest Ohio changes as you head south.”

Now, long-distance rail travel faces steep cuts nationwide. Mr. Sheehy spoke on Saturday at a protest against President Trump’s proposed budget, which includes significant cuts to Amtrak. 

There has not been a direct train route from Toledo to Cincinnati for decades. But the cuts — which require congressional approval before they become law — would eliminate several existing rail services, including the Lakeshore Limited and the Capitol Limited, which stop daily both eastbound and westbound in Toledo.

At the rally, a group of about 20 demonstrators waved signs with slogans like “trains = jobs” and “defend train service” outside Central Union Terminal, also known as Martin Luther King, Jr., Plaza.

The rally was one of dozens of demonstrations held across the country this weekend as part of a lobbying blitz by the National Association of Railroad Passengers, an advocacy organization that represents rail passengers.

Released in March, the President’s budget proposal describes Amtrak’s long-distance trains as “a vestige of when train service was the only viable transcontinental transportation option.” It notes that long-distance trains arrive on schedule only 55 percent of the time and calls for Amtrak to focus on improving the efficiency of its shorter corridors.

But Mr. Sheehy — who worked for CSX Railroad for more than 40 years before going into politics in 2013 — said the proposed cuts will hurt job growth and deter people from travelling to Toledo.

“It’s another nail in the coffin of the economy in the state of Ohio,” he said.

Democratic State Central Committee representative Michael Friedman, who worked for a decade as an Amtrak conductor, said he took the Capitol Limited on his way to Philadelphia last summer to attend the Democratic National Convention.

Mr. Friedman stood next to Mr. Sheehy and representatives from the railroad passengers association as they urged onlookers to call their local congressmen and voice concerns about the railroad cuts.

Contact David Yaffe-Bellany at: dbellany@theblade.com, or 419-724-6050.

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