Amtrak's Gateway Imperiled by Trump Proposal to Slash Funding

  • Menendez warns of potential for ‘catastrophic ripple effect’
  • New York-area rail project called crucial to national economy

President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget outline calls for the elimination of billions of dollars that Amtrak is counting on for Gateway, the proposed rail tunnel project under the Hudson River designed to ease New York City-area commuter travel.

Trump’s plan, laid out Thursday in a budget blueprint to Congress, calls for an end to the U.S. Transportation Department’s New Starts program, which provides about $2.3 billion annually to commuter rail and bus rapid-transit programs. The approval process for New Starts financing of the $24 billion project , which includes replacing a century-old bridge in New Jersey, began in July.

Trump’s Republican Party platform in July labeled the government-subsidized Amtrak an “extremely expensive railroad” and called for private control of its profitable Northeast Corridor. The route’s only existing Hudson River crossing, a tunnel more than a century old, is being eroded by corrosives deposited in 2012 by Hurricane Sandy floodwater, and has less than 20 years of serviceable use.

“President Trump is single-handedly trying to derail Gateway and send a catastrophic ripple effect that will cause irreparable harm to our regional and national economies,” U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, said in a statement.

Infrastructure Plan

Menendez and two Democratic colleagues, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Charles Schumer of New York, have been pressuring Trump, with a family fortune tied to New York City real estate, to prioritize Gateway as the president pushes for $1 trillion in public and private infrastructure spending.

The Trump budget outline, introduced on March 15, increases defense, crime and immigration-enforcement spending and cuts foreign aid and federal departments, a step the president called “sensible and rational.” Spending for the Transportation Department would be 13 percent less with zero for New Starts and the economic-recovery grants known as TIGER, and nothing for Amtrak’s money-losing long-distance routes.

It is doubtful that Congress will accept most of Trump’s recommendations. Even Republicans in the House were lukewarm to his budget request.

The White House said a separate infrastructure plan will be released later.

Amtrak, in a study summary released March 15, said Gateway would generate $4 for every one spent and drive a regional economy that is competing with London, Tokyo and Berlin, which are modernizing their transportation hubs. Without the new tunnel, the report found, the region stands to lose as much as $3 billion in economic activity from 2025 to 2029.

Commuter Hell

No New Starts funding would “stop the progress of the vital Gateway Tunnel project dead in its tracks,” Schumer said in a statement. “If the Trump administration was serious about its commitment to infrastructure, then projects like Gateway should be where they walk the walk, not just talk the talk.”

John D. Porcari, interim executive director of the Gateway Program Development Corp. and a former deputy U.S. transportation secretary, called Amtrak’s plan “the most urgent infrastructure project in America.”

“The project stands on its merits as a wise investment that will help secure the thriving economic future of a region that contributes 10 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product,” Porcari said in a statement emailed by Amtrak’s Gateway press office. The project sponsors, he said, will work with the Trump administration “to minimize any potential impact on this urgent regional and national priority.”

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