Amtrak passenger train service would end in Ohio if the Trump Administration’s proposed budget is approved.
Toledo’s Amtrak station and all of its counterparts in the state would lose their trains as part of the proposal unveiled last week, but trains in several Michigan corridors would be preserved.
The President’s budget proposal calls for all long-distance trains to be eliminated so Amtrak can concentrate on improving the efficiency of its shorter corridors.
Eliminating the long-distance routes would bring an end to all intercity train service in half the 46 states Amtrak now serves, including three routes that cross parts of Ohio and all service in the Deep South, Great Plains, and Intermountain West.
Only routes along the Northeast Corridor and neighboring states from North Carolina to Maine, along the Pacific Coast, and radiating from Chicago would remain.
The latter group would include Amtrak’s Chicago-based routes running out to Grand Rapids, Port Huron, and Pontiac, Mich., via Detroit. The latter route now operates three round trips per day and includes stops in Dearborn and Ann Arbor.
But similar cuts have been proposed before, only to be restored during congressional budget deliberations, and in a memo he sent to Amtrak staff Thursday, company president Charles “Wick” Moorman said the Trump proposal is not a done deal.
“Every year, there is vigorous debate on what Congress should fund and what it should not,” Mr. Moorman, who took Amtrak’s helm last year, wrote in part. “These debates are often long and hard, and they often result in a final outcome that is very different from the initial proposal.”
“The proposed budget is just that — a proposal,” agreed Joe Cappel, vice president for business development at the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, which since 1994 has owned Toledo’s train station and spent $11 million to renovate it. “It won’t be the final budget.”
U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) in an email Saturday added that the budget proposal has a long way to go before approval.
“It’s important to remember that this proposal is just the beginning — not the end — of the federal budgetary process. As the House prepares its budget, the budget, authorizing, and appropriations committees will thoroughly review the fiscal priorities for our nation.”
But as proposed, Mr. Cappel said, the cuts, “would constrain people’s options for travel from Toledo and the region” as well as ending a revenue stream to maintain the building, which also houses Toledo’s Greyhound bus station.
“It would be more challenging for us to operate the facility” without Amtrak, given that there is no other train operator available to step in should Amtrak’s intercity routes shut down, Mr. Cappel said.
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) said the proposed Amtrak cuts are part of what she considers a broader disregard for the Midwest from the Trump Administration, based on its being stocked with advisers mainly from the East and West Coasts.
While Amtrak supporters in Congress are likely to come through on the rail system’s behalf as they have before, “It’s too bad that we have to waste valuable time on this kind of restoration effort,” Miss Kaptur said.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) said in an email he supports increasing Amtrak service in Ohio and will support efforts to ensure Ohio continues to have access to these lines.
“Amtrak helps connect our country’s cities and regions, and we should be trying to improve rail service not cut it,” he wrote. “We know Ohioans rely on this service and any reduction will limit Ohioans’ ability to travel for work or visit family living outside our state.”
Trains in region daily
The Ohio routes proposed to be eliminated include the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited trains that now stop daily both eastbound and westbound in Toledo and Cleveland, and the Cardinal train that makes three trips per week each way through Cincinnati.
The Lake Shore also stops in Sandusky and Bryan, while the Capitol makes the Sandusky stop. The former train splits at Albany, N.Y. for Boston and New York, while the latter’s eastern endpoint is Washington.
Cincinnati is the Cardinal’s only Ohio stop; it crosses the Ohio River there and follows that waterway on the Kentucky side until it reaches Huntington, W.Va., and provides the only Amtrak service in the Bluegrass State.
Bill Gill, a member of several local and national boards advocating for improved passenger train service, said communities such as Bryan and Sandusky are valuable parts of Amtrak’s system.
“In trying to do away with the long-distance trains ... this cuts a vital service that connects smaller town economies, Mr. Gill said Saturday. “Amtrak goes to 200 cities and towns that don’t have airports, and many of them don’t even have bus service. Trains are often their lifeblood.”
The Amtrak trains crossing Ohio stop mostly at inconvenient, wee-hours times, but still managed to attract more than 55,536 riders during fiscal 2016 at the Toledo station, including those connecting here to or from Amtrak buses serving Detroit, Lansing, and intermediate Michigan stops.
Cuts often proposed
The Trump Administration is not the first to propose eliminating subsidies for all or part of Amtrak, with long-distance trains among those most frequently targeted for elimination.
Eliminating all Amtrak funding routinely appeared in President Ronald Reagan’s budget proposals during the 1980s, but Congressional advocates always came to the passenger-train system’s defense.
Some of the deepest actual cuts to Amtrak service, by contrast, occurred during Democratic presidencies.
Those included elimination of several long-distance routes in 1979 during the Carter administration and, in 1995 during Bill Clinton’s presidency, the end of service on a route through Fostoria and between Toledo and Detroit, along with several cuts to long-distance trains in the western United States.
When Amtrak was created in May, 1971, Toledo was not on its route map at all, with service operating across northern Ohio only via Crestline and Lima. But later that decade, the Lake Shore Limited route through Cleveland and Toledo was re-established, first on an “experimental” basis and then permanently.
Toledo gained a second daily pair of Amtrak trains in 1990, when Amtrak rerouted its Capitol Limited service between Washington and Chicago off the line through Lima. At the same time Amtrak also moved its Broadway Limited line out of Lima and onto the route through Fostoria, where it ran until its September, 1995, elimination.
Three years later, Amtrak extended its Pennsylvanian train, which previously had Pittsburgh as its western terminal, through Toledo to Chicago during daytime hours. But that train route again ended in Pittsburgh, starting in early 2003 after Amtrak decided to end its handling of expedited freight shipments, which that route had also handled.
Amtrak now operates 15 long-distance routes across its network. All of them operate daily except for the Cardinal and the Sunset Limited route between New Orleans and Los Angeles, which are both tri-weekly.
Among Mr. Kasich’s earliest actions upon taking office in 2011 was to return a $400 million federal grant secured by the preceding Strickland administration to fund improvements to tracks between Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati to support introduction of passenger-train service in that corridor.
Mr. Kasich said at the time he could not support developing the project since Ohio would be obliged to subsidize the route once trains began running.
Miss Kaptur said the governor’s repudiation of rail six years ago “hurt us a great deal,” but the fight to preserve what Ohio already has will continue.
“We have to be vigilant. We’ve been through this fight before,” she said.
Contact David Patch at: email@example.com or 419-724-6094.