By Keith Laing - 08/15/12 02:31 PM EDT
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said in an interview published this week that he would eliminate federal funding for Amtrak if he is elected in November.
In an interview with CNN's Fortune Magazine, the presumptive GOP nominee identified the national passenger rail service as a program that would be on the chopping block in a Romney administration.
"There are three major areas I have focused on for reduction in spending," Romney said to the magazine. "These are in many cases reductions which become larger and larger over time. So first there are programs I would eliminate — ObamaCare being one of them, but also various subsidy programs: the Amtrak subsidy, the PBS subsidy, the subsidy for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities."
"Some of these things, like those endowment efforts and PBS, I very much appreciate and like what they do in many cases, but I just think they have to stand on their own rather than receiving money borrowed from other countries, as our government does on their behalf," he said.
Amtrak has received an annual subsidiary for its operations since it was set up by Congress to replace a network of private rail companies in 1971. The agency has come under fire from Republicans in the House for reports that the service lost $833 million on concession sales over the last 10 years.
Romney has identified the Amtrak subsidy as a likely target for being cut from the budget if he defeats President Obama in November.
But Eno Center for Transportation's President Joshua Schank said Wednesday that it would be difficult for Romney, or any politician, to eliminate Amtrak's service in the Northeast U.S. corridor.
"I think it's pretty clear that actually zeroing out Amtrak would be a very challenging thing to do," Schank said in an interview with The Hill. "It's probably an easier thing to do with a Republican Congress than it has been at any point in our history since Amtrak was created in 1971. The comments are important because they signal that this is something he would go after, [but] .. it wouldn't go away quickly in the way he describes, that if you zero out Amtrak, you could save $1 billion annually."
Schank said it would probably be more realistic for Romney to reduce Amtrak's funding or push for privatizing some of its more popular routes, as Republicans have done before, rather than eliminate the agency altogether. But even a reduction in Amtrak funding would have consequences for commuters in the Northeast and the rest of the country, he said.
"If you zero out Amtrak tomorrow, Amtrak would start shutting down its services," he said. "These skies would fill up pretty quickly. New York would have to ramp up service to Boston, and the impact would be felt across the nation."
Romney said in the Fortune interview that he would also return programs like Medicaid to states and reduce the size of other federal government programs by 10 percent through attrition to cut spending.
—This story was updated with new information at 10:58 a.m.