There’s a possibility under President Donald Trump’s budget that North Dakota could lose its Amtrak service. That would be unfortunate.
North Dakota gets long-distance train service through Amtrak’s Empire Builder, which runs from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest. The train goes through Fargo, Grand Forks, Devils Lake, Rugby, Minot, Stanley and Williston. For many it’s the last chance to travel by rail.
Trump’s budget seeks to eliminate federal funding for Amtrak’s long-distance services, which are considered inefficient and are blamed for most of Amtrak’s operating losses. While Amtrak is a for-profit business, it’s partially funded by the government.
Going by rail is a more leisurely form of travel. It allows passengers to relax and enjoy the scenery as the train moves along. Traveling by train used to be a common form of transportation, but it has become a dinosaur of sorts. Most people don’t think of trains when making travel plans, which is too bad because train travel can be more relaxing.
The National Association of Railroad Passengers argues that given time, long-distance train travel will show a profit and offer economic development opportunities. That’s open to debate since Amtrak has been struggling for years to show a profit. The chances that Congress will follow Trump’s recommendations aren’t too bright.
North Dakota’s congressional delegation opposes cutting funds for the long-distance service. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who has been a strong supporter and defender of Trump, has come out against the cuts. He noted the Empire Builder served 454,625 passengers in 2016, which would be a lot of people forced to find alternative travel.
Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., cited the negative impact cutting Amtrak would have on rural communities.
While it doesn’t look likely Congress will approve cutting the long-distance service, some changes are needed. Train travel can’t just be a luxury dependent on federal funding. Amtrak needs to find ways to wean itself off federal funds.
The nation shouldn’t give up on train travel because it still offers opportunities. We just need to do it right.
The Legislature has passed and Gov. Doug Burgum has signed Senate Bill 2231. The measure restricts charges by air ambulance services that are not participating providers with major insurers. The new law could spare patients some huge bills.
This is good legislation. People in difficult medical situations don’t always have the time to consider their options. There will be bills to be paid, but the burden will be eased.