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Trump's proposed budget cuts could affect rail service to Pittsburgh, Connellsville

Jacob Tierney
| Tuesday, June 20, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
A biker rides along the Great Allegheny Passage past fall foliage in Ohiopyle State Park. (Trib photo)
Steph Chambers | Trib Total Media
A biker rides along the Great Allegheny Passage past fall foliage in Ohiopyle State Park. (Trib photo)

As the state Senate considers expanding a Western Pennsylvania passenger rail route, the future of another is in question.

President Trump's proposed budget would eliminate federal subsidies for almost all long-distance Amtrak routes, including the Capitol Limited train, which runs from Chicago to Washington, D.C., with stops in Pittsburgh and Connellsville.

The cut would be a major blow to the economy of the small Fayette County community, said Connellsville Mayor Greg Lincoln.

The Capitol Limited is popular with bicyclists on the Great Allegheny Passage, a trail that runs from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Md., and connects with the C&O Towpath that runs to Washington.

Thanks to the path and bicyclist-friendly train service, Connellsville has become something of a tourism hub. People stop for a meal or a night in a bed and breakfast before moving on to another part of the trail, Lincoln said.

Lincoln said he hopes Congress will protect the Amtrak route, but he's had little indication of lawmakers' intentions since Trump released his budget recommendations in May.

“We haven't heard anything one way or another,” Lincoln said.

He's hopeful the deepest cuts won't make it into the final federal budget.

“It's always doom and gloom when people are talking about budgets,” he said.

Mark Spada, president of Western Pennsylvanians for Passenger Rail, said cutting long-distance lines would have a ripple effect for all passenger trains across the country. In a letter to Congress, Amtrak President C.W. Moorman argued cutting long-distance rail routes would put more of a burden on shorter routes, increasing costs across the network by $423 million a year.

The Trump administration has proposed cutting $630 million a year in Amtrak subsidies, part of a 13 percent overall cut to the Department of Transportation. The president's plan states long-distance trains are often behind schedule and consistently lose money.

Spada said he's optimistic that the cuts won't make it into the final budget Congress passes.

“I don't think that's going to happen,” he said.

Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6646 or jtierney@tribweb.com.

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