Trump proposes to end long-distance Amtrak trains through ski towns
by Allen Best
TRUCKEE, Calif. — If the Trump administration has its way with Congress, Amtrak will lose subsidies for its long-distance routes. At least two of those Amtrak trains roll through ski country.
The California Zephyr arrives from Denver and slides under the Continental Divide through the 6.2 mile Moffat Tunnel, emerging at the base of the Winter Park ski area while continuing westward to Glenwood Springs and then Salt Lake City.
The same train pauses at Truckee, Calif., proximate to a half-dozen ski areas, before continuing over Donner Pass to Oakland.
Another long-distance train, the Empire Builder, passes through Montana, stopping at an entrance to Glacier National Park and also Whitefish before continuing to Sandpoint, Idaho, at the base of Mt. Schweitzer, on its way to Seattle.
In Truckee, city manager Tony Lashbrook sees Trump’s proposed slashing of Amtrak subsidies as a mistake. “It reminds me of the thinking that led to the demise of the street car system in Southern California 75 years ago,” he says. Los Angeles is now rebuilding its light rail system.
Truckee has had passenger trains since 1868. The current train station in downtown Truckee was built in 1900 and is on the National Register of Historic Buildings.
“The current administration’s proposal to eliminate critical funding for the California Zephyr, without any outreach or communication with impacted communities is unacceptable,” he says.
The Trump administration has said it wants to enhance regional routes, as opposed to the long-distance routes, but has offered no specific proposals. Truckee, says Lashbrook, has long been interested in improved passenger service between the Bay Area and Reno, Nev., located 30 miles down-valley from Truckee, as an alternative to the congestion commonly found on Interstate 80, especially during the snowy winter months.
“Eliminating the only passenger rail service serving our region without exploring regional options that could replace it is simply ill advised,” he says.
In Montana, Whitefish last year accounted for 54,000 riders of the 123,600 passengers who got off an Amtrak in Montana last year, notes the Whitefish Pilot.
Trump’s budget says long-distance routes “incur the vast majority of Amtrak’s operating losses.” The budget proposes to cut $2.4 billion in Amtrak funding. Amtrak last year operated at a net loss of $227 million.