National Press Club

Amtrak CEO Charles Moorman defends against Trump’s proposed 13% transportation budget cuts

July 12, 2017 | By Jesse Rifkin | jesserifkin01@gmail.com

Amtrak CEO Charles Moorman speaks Wednesday, July 12, 2017 at a National Press Club Headliners luncheon.

Amtrak CEO Charles Moorman speaks Wednesday, July 12, 2017 at a National Press Club Headliners luncheon.

Photo/Image: Marshall H. Cohen

The Trump administration’s proposal to end all federal support for Amtrak’s long-distance rail service would be “extraordinarily problematic,” Amtrak CEO and President Charles Moorman said Wednesday at the National Press Club.

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would slash the federal transportation budget by 13% and completely eliminate all federal subsidies to Amtrak’s long-distance rail service. Those subsidies account for 45% of the program’s operating budget. Without the subsidies, Amtrak would have to eliminate service to 220 cities, Moorman said.

Trump has defended the Amtrak cuts as a 21st century necessity for a 20th-century mode of transportation.

“Amtrak’s long distance trains do not serve a vital transportation purpose, and are a vestige of when train service was the only viable transcontinental transportation option,” Trump’s budget proposal noted.

Moorman said such cuts will hurt consumers and harm underserved areas disproportionately.

“The long-distance business is why we were created," he said. "In a very real sense, it’s also the political glue that holds us together. We get a lot of support from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle in places where we run passenger trains. Their constituents like it.”

Moorman said he often rides Amtrak from Charlottesville to Washington.

"I would rather have a root canal than get on I-95 and come up here in the mornings," he said. "Those trains are full because a lot of people feel like I do.”

In some respects, Moorman says Trump’s proposed budget is an improvement over previous proposals. President George W. Bush proposed ending all federal money for Amtrak in 2005, not just for the long-distance rail portion of Amtrak as Trump currently proposes.

“Years ago, the proposals coming out of the administrations were, ‘Shut down Amtrak.’," he said. "The Trump proposal is, ‘Gee, we’ve got this one thing that we don’t think makes sense.' The other things they actually support.”

Moorman, Amtrak’s 10th president and CEO since the organization’s founding in 1971, initially turned down the job when it was first offered to him in 2016. He was enjoying retirement from his previous job as CEO of transportation company Norfolk Southern, and spending more time with his children and grandchildren.

“They asked me about doing it, and I said no,” Moorman recalled. “So they ran a search, which didn’t really work very well. They came back to me and finally convinced me to do it… to my wife’s utter disgust.”