The National Association of Railroad Passengers’ newly released economic report reveals that cutting train service across the U.S. would disproportionately affect low income households in rural communities across the country. At the same time, the new report, titled “Dismantling a National Transportation Network,” demonstrates that an increase in federal funding for Amtrak and passenger rail would create vast economic growth in those same areas. The report is a sharp rebuke to recent budget proposals from the White House and members of Congress that would have negatively affected the local economies for 45 percent of American taxpayers.
“Investing in rail for the long-term should be a key priority for the next budget cycle,” said NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews. “Those in Congress who believe that passenger rail is not profitable are mistaken. What they don’t see is the big picture. A robust national--and international--intermodal transportation system is crucial to economic growth, especially in those rural and less wealthy areas where travel options are already limited.”
The report cites specific examples of the economic disparity that would result from cutting portions of the national rail network. For instance, household income lags the national average in blue collar towns between Chicago and New Orleans where service would be cut. The same is true in the long corridor from New Orleans to New York and from New York to Chicago. Conversely, the budget proposals would seek to preserve service for wealthy, populous towns along the eastern seaboard between Washington and Boston.
“These budget proposals are not fair to rural, red-state America most of all,” said Mathews. “There are 220 communities in 23 states of so-called ‘flyover country’ that would pay the economic price when trains disappear from their towns and cities. But, if we have the foresight to invest in middle America, the whole nation would reap the benefits.”
The report further details how trains can help spur growth. For instance, expansion of the passenger rail network brings real estate development. Private developers are more interested than ever in investing in public transportation hubs as catalysts. Currently, 29 percent of Amtrak’s passengers use long distance routes to travel to work, and 61 percent use Amtrak to travel to see family and friends.
“There are countless examples in small towns across the country where seed money from public grants attracted hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment,” said Mathews. “Just look at places like Normal, Il., or Meridian, Ms., and you’ll see the billions of dollars in combined value that would not have taken place if we abdicated this incubator role entirely to the private sector.”
The report also details other ways that long distance passenger rail contributes to the national and local economies, and that would be lost by cutting trains. This includes direct jobs at Amtrak, which employs more than 20,000 people, and purchases $1.6 billion in goods and services each year. In 2014, Amtrak spent more than $800 million on station construction and improvements, alone. Each $1 million supported 23 indirect, construction jobs.
“Real estate development, construction and jobs are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Mathews. “If we could shift just one percent of car traffic to rails, we would save 200 lives each year. If 200 people don’t matter to you, consider them in harsh economic terms: According the US DOT, 200 lives equals $1.88 billion per year in economic value.”
NARP’s Economic Report clearly highlights the socio-economic potential for upgrading passenger rail in the U.S. NARP encourages all those who use passenger rail, live along Amtrak’s network, and all members of congress to read the report, which will help everyone understand Amtrak’s true value to the U.S.
About the National Association of Railroad Passengers
NARP is the only national organization speaking for the nearly 40 million users of passenger trains and rail transit. We have worked since 1967 to expand the quality and quantity of passenger rail in the U.S. Our mission is to work towards a modern, customer-focused national passenger train network that provides a travel choice Americans want. Our work is supported by more than 28,000 individual members nationwide.