Proposed budget cuts by the Trump administration could threaten Amtrak service in Tomah.
The president’s 2018 budget blueprint proposes a 13 percent cut to the United States Department of Transportation. The cut would eliminate federal support for Amtrak’s long-distance services, which includes the Empire Builder route that stops in Tomah.
Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, said the cut would have a devastating impact on western and central Wisconsin.
“Instead of supporting programs that create jobs and grow communities, like Tomah, it guts the programs you depend on,” he said. “I will be working hard in the coming months to make sure that these cuts are not in the final budget.”
The cuts, while they will impact Tomah, won’t have a direct impact, Roger Gorius, city of Tomah city administrator said.
“(Amtrak) is utilized quite a bit to go to Chicago, Milwaukee, and the Amish use it going out east, so I think it would have a minor impact on us,” he said. “It doesn’t have a direct impact on (Tomah’s) economy, but it does have an indirect impact. A lot of cuts are being made, and we’re just going to roll with the punches.”
Tina Thompson, executive director of the Tomah Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, said the Amtrak station is “one of Tomah’s most natural draws.”
Tomah’s Amtrak station is a gateway, Thompson said.
“Tomah is midway between Minneapolis and Chicago,” she said. “We have a lot of commuters that come here or travel through here. Tomah’s kind of the big city between those, so of course, it would have an impact on us. ... To lose one of those major legs would certainly make it a challenge to stay a transportation hub.”
Tomah saw a sharp increase in Amtrak ridership last year. There were 13,083 passengers at the Tomah in 2016, compared to 10,300 in 2015.
Nationwide in 2016, Amtrak ridership increased 1.9 percent from 2015, with 909,665 riders. In 2015, which also saw a ridership increase of .1 percent, there were 892,421 riders.
In Milwaukee ridership on the state supported Hiawatha Service, also increased slightly between 2015 and 2016 from 594,076 riders to 597,134 riders.
Amtrak President and CEO Wick Moorman said the budget cuts would be felt across the country. He said the plan to eliminate funding for Amtrak’s long distance service could impact as many as 500 communities
“Amtrak operates 15 long-distance trains across the nation, and these routes offer the only Amtrak service in 23 of the 46 states we serve,” Moorman said. “These trains connect our major regions, provide vital transportation to residents in rural communities and generate connecting passengers and revenue for our Northeast Corridor and state-supported services. Amtrak is very focused on running efficiently − we covered 94 percent of our total network operating costs through ticket sales and other revenues in FY16 − but these services all require federal investment.”
Moorman hopes to convince the Trump administration of the value of Amtrak’s long-distance service.
“As the budget process progresses, we look forward to working with President Trump, (Transportation) Secretary (Elaine) Chao and Congress to ensure they understand the value of Amtrak’s long-distance trains and what these proposed cuts would mean to this important part of the nation’s transportation system,” he said.