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North Florida: Budget cuts would stop Amtrak’s return

Chris Jones: Greene Publishing, Inc.

Over a year ago, on Friday, Feb. 19, 2016, Madison citizens welcomed the arrival of an Amtrak train into the small station at 1000 Range St. It was the first time in 11 years that a train pulled into that station. Off of that train stepped Amtrak spokespersons, government officials, and news crews, announcing to the gathered crowd that train service would soon return to Northwest Florida. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed sections of the Amtrak track, and passenger rail service has not returned to this part of the State since.

On Tuesday, May 23, President Trump's 2018 budget was released, and it called for government grants to Amtrak to be cut from $1.4 billion to $774 million. "Cutting funding in this way would force Amtrak to cut all service to 23 states and will shift major costs onto our remaining Northeast Corridor and state-support trains, imperiling them," said Kimberly Woods, an Amtrak spokeswoman.

The Trump administration justified the cuts by highlighting poor performance from the long-distance service. Amtrak, which is technically the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, is a passenger railroad service. It was founded in 1971, and while partially government funded, is managed and operated as a for-profit corporation. It relies on government grants to offset the costs of doing business, while keeping fares affordable.

Madison City Commissioner Jim Catron, told Greene Publishing, Inc., “I am disappointed because, in my opinion, there is no reason why the service should not have been restored nine months after Katrina.”  He continued, “I am not surprised though, because there is very little interest for providing affordable transportation to people in rural areas of the south.”

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