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Train Station

Two men walk in front of the train station in December in Carbondale to catch the Amtrak train.

The Southern File Photo

If President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget proposal becomes a reality, it could spell real trouble for Southern Illinois.

In particular, Amtrak’s City of New Orleans train, which runs out of the Carbondale station and transports SIU students between Carbondale and larger cities upstate, is on the chopping block. That train could go away under the president’s proposal, which calls for a 13 percent reduction in spending to the Department of Transportation.

It would terminate “federal support for Amtrak's long-distance train services, which have long been inefficient and incur the vast majority of Amtrak's operating losses,” as Trump’s “skinny budget” blueprint, released in March, reads.

Inefficient? We wholeheartedly disagree.

Regardless, it’s not good for Carbondale and the rest of the region.

“If you were to drive through our Amtrak parking lot on any given weekend, you’ll notice license plates from Missouri and Kentucky,” Carbondale City Manager Gary Williams said in a story this week. “So it’s not just a Carbondale asset, it’s a regional asset. Particularly in an area that is high poverty, it’s a reliable, affordable mode of transportation that people utilize daily.”

He’s right — it’s not just Carbondale. It’s Southern Illinois. And, it would hurt Southern Illinois University Carbondale, which is already suffering enough when it comes to declining enrollment and state budget issues.

Now, none of this certain. Remember, it’s just a proposal from the president. Congress will write the budget, and surely it will be different from what Trump has written.

So we implore our lawmakers — U.S. Reps. Mike Bost and John Shimkus, U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth — to keep this in mind when it comes to putting a budget proposal together.

Keep in mind that Southern Illinois needs Amtrak.

Keep in mind that Southern Illinois needs the Capital Investment Grant’s New and Small Starts program, which matches more than $2 billion in local funding for rail, streetcar and bus rapid transit projects annually.

Keep in mind that Southern Illinois needs Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER), a spending program used for surface transportation projects. Remember, last year Carbondale was denied a $14.64 million grant through TIGER that would have funded the city’s revamped multimodal facility, a project that’s in limbo. The project may as well stay in limbo without the program.

All of these programs are vital for our region. All of these programs could be cut under Trump’s proposed budget.

Williams said Amtrak is a key component to keeping Carbondale’s hopes for a new multimodal facility alive. Without Amtrak, he said the project isn’t “feasible” anymore.

“Anything that would jeopardize (Amtrak's) schedules to Carbondale … would also jeopardize the future of that project,” Williams said.

City officials have been working hard at revitalizing downtown Carbondale. The multimodal project is one of those steps. We’d hate to see that hard work and planning go down the drain.

“It’s not just long-distance trains. It’s new buses for the Carbondale transit system, it’s the new train station that Carbondale desperately needs,” said Rick Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, in a story this week.

According to Amtrak President and CEO Wick Moorman, 94 percent of the company’s operating costs come through ticket sales and other revenues in FY2016. But, he said, those services still require federal investments.

It goes beyond Southern Illinois, too. Moorman said Amtrak operates 15 long-distance trains, and those comprise the only available services in 23 out of the 46 states the company serves.

“Folks really need to get very upset about this and make sure their congressmen know how bad an idea this is,” Harnish said.

We agree. Our leaders need to propose a budget that is good for Southern Illinois.

It seems the president’s budget proposal is very favorable for those traveling in cars. But, that’s not the only mode of transportation.

It’s unfathomable that the region can go without Amtrak and the rest of these services.

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