WASHINGTON D.C. - Officials with the Southern Rail Commission (SRC) are confidant President Trump's proposed cuts to the nation's railroad system and to Amtrak's long-distance routes will not affect the return of passenger rail service here.
"President Trump proposed a budget like other Presidents before him, but Congress is the nation's fiscal agent, and Amtrak is enjoying what we believe is the most support from Congress that it's had in recent years," SRC Secretary Knox Ross told Washington County News on Thursday.
The 2018 budget outline includes a 13 percent cut to the Department of Transportation, which would eliminate federal subsidies for long-distance Amtrak routes and likely erase train travel among hundreds of cities and towns.
"The proposal is unfortunate, but we are confidant it won't stand and therefore not impact efforts on the Gulf Coast Passenger Rail Service." said Ross.
Congressman Neal Dunn, R-Panama City, agreed, reiterating the President is mandated to propose a budget, and it is simply a proposal.
“The President is required to offer a suggested budget every year," said Dunn. "It is important to remember that it is Congress that is responsible for writing the federal budget and the appropriations bills that fund the government. As we do, I will be working to ensure that it is fiscally responsible and meets our nation’s critical needs.
The National Association of Railroad Passengers took quick action on hearing the suggested budget, issuing a dire warning the budget would “place a disproportionate amount of pain on rural and working class communities.”
Amtrak Vice President of Government Affairs and Policy Sean Jeans-Gail says since that warning, Congress has witnessed a “huge public outpouring,” with thousands of NAAP members calling elected representatives.
“We can verify Congress is hearing this outcry, and they’re taking notice," said Jeans-Gail. "We’ve seen a shift among Republicans from guarded, noncommittal statements to guarded statements that emphasize that Congress has the power of the purse. That’s progress.”
Meanwhile, progress is also being made on the Gulf Coast Passenger Rail with completion expected in as little as a six months to a year.
The congressionally-mandated Gulf Coast Working Group, which has been looking at the logistics of restarting that service, is in the process of preparing a final report to present to the Federal Railroad Administration later this month.
Officials stressed the former stops — known as the “legacy stops” — will remain the same. In Florida, those stops are Pensacola, Crestview, Chipley, Madison, Tallahassee, Lake City, and Jacksonville. One additional stop will be implemented in Live Oak at the request of local officials.