Budget cuts could end AV Amtrak stop

A crowd gathers around the Amtrak Texas Eagle as it makes its first stop at the Arcadia Valley Train Station on the evening of Nov. 17. The train was welcomed with fireworks and cheers from the crowd that night, but budget cuts proposed by the Trump Administration could close the Arcadia stop, along with more than 200 others across the nation.

Six years of planning, intense negotiations and raising funds to bring an Amtrak stop to the Arcadia Valley may all go up in smoke if President Donald Trump's budget cuts to rail transportation are ultimately approved by the U.S. Congress.

The Arcadia station, which began Amtrak service in November, appears on a list of more than 220 cities that the National Association Of Railroad Passengers (NARP) has said will no longer receive Amtrak service, according to the budget outline released by the Trump Administration. The proposal cuts $2.4 billion from transportation, which is a 13 percent reduction of last year's funding.

The only other Missouri Amtrak stop that appears on the list is in La Plata, a town with a population of around 1,366 residents located in north central Macon County.

Bringing an Amtrak stop to the Arcadia Valley brought with it headaches, problems, delays and setbacks from the very start. Amtrak, MoDOT, Union Pacific, the city of Arcadia and members of Our Town Tomorrow began meeting in 2012 to discuss the documents and funding needed to make the Arcadia Amtrak stop possible.

At the time the city was awarded the matching grant the projected cost of the platform’s construction was $314,212.25. Adding a 15 percent contingency, the grand total of the proposed project was expected to come in at $361,344.09. Not included in that amount was the 25-year lease from Union Pacific on the platform grounds and all electrical items, such as lights.

Facing a shortfall at the beginning of 2016, State Rep. Paul Fitzwater, R-Potosi, and Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, announced that MoDOT had secured $100,000 in federal transportation funds to complete the Amtrak stop. In addition to the MoDOT Transportation Enhancement Grant, the project was partially funded by Iron County Economic Partnership and the William Edgar Foundation.

Eventually, the city of Arcadia was one of 11 southeast Missouri committees selected to receive a share of $2.9 million in federal enhancement funds through an 80/20 grant amounting to $330,000 which, which along with the $50,000 match provided by the William Edgar Foundation, a $30,000 grant from the Taum Sauk Fund, and more than $7,000 in community donations, was used for the platform’s construction.

Now it appears that the Arcadia stop — along with Amtrak service throughout the country — could potentially come to an end.

NARP denounced the budget outline, claiming that it slashes investment in transportation infrastructure. The cuts not only would affect Amtrak transit and commuter service, but also air service to rural towns, which could cost towns like Arcadia construction and manufacturing jobs.

"It's ironic that President Trump's first budget proposal undermines the very communities whose economic hardship and sense of isolation from the rest of the country helped propel him into office," said NARP President Jim Mathews. "These working class communities — many of them located in the Midwest and the South — were tired of being treated like 'flyover country.' But by proposing the elimination of Amtrak's long distance trains, the Trump Administration does them one worse, cutting a vital service that connects these small town economies to the rest of the U.S. These hard working, small town Americans don't have airports or Uber to turn to; they depend on these trains."

The proposed budget cuts include:

— Elimination of all federal funding for Amtrak's national network trains, which provides the only national network service to 23 states and the only nearby Amtrak service for 144.6 million Americans;

— A cut of $499 million from the TIGER grant program that invests in passenger rail and transit projects of national significance;

— Elimination of $2.3 billion for the Federal Transit Administration's "New Starts" Capital Investment Program, something the NARP says is crucial to launching new transit, commuter rail and light-rail projects.

In addition to the possibility that Texas Eagle twice-daily service to Arcadia will come to an end, other long-distance train routes across the country that would be affected by the proposed cuts include Gulf Coast Restoration, in development; Silver Star, daily service; Cardinal, three trains a week; Silver Meteor, daily service; Empire Builder, daily service; Capitol Limited, daily service; California Zephyr, daily service; Southwest Chief, daily service; City of New Orleans, daily service; Sunset Limited, three trains a week; Coast Starlight, daily service; Lake Shore Limited, daily service; Palmetto, daily service; Crescent, daily service; and Auto Train, daily service.

Yet, in the midst of all the dire predictions regarding Amtrak's imminent demise due to budget cuts, a local lawmaker is asking his constituents to take a deep breath and relax. U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, R-8th District, stressed that, while it's always wise for citizens to be aware of what the government is doing, it's simply too early in the budgeting process for people to begin writing the Arcadia Amtrak stop's obituary.

"The president's complete budget has never been even presented," Smith said. "What he presented was just a very 'above the radar' budget. Until we get his complete budget we don't even know of the changes and the cuts and where they hit. We'll be reviewing the budget when it's all there, but right now the complete president's budget is not there yet.

"Even with cuts, the budget is never line-itemed that it would be one particular area. It may be a reduction in amount to whatever operation, but that doesn't mean Arcadia Valley. We have to look at the president's complete budget, but right now it's way too early."

Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or kjenkins@dailyjournalonline.com

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