Amtrak is in a very different situation from the situation during the 1970s or 1980s cuts. In particular, the trains are mostly profitable, and those which aren't are running very small losses. This wasn't true in the 1970s or 1980s.
I think it's important to point out the following:
-- It's bonkers, insane, lunatic to cut any train service which is profitable (or breakeven) before overhead. Doing so would cost Congress more money and would just be shuffling overhead around. If I'm correct the Auto Train, Palmetto, Silver Star, Silver Meteor, Lake Shore Limited, and Crescent are all profitable before overhead. And I know I'm correct. Therefore these trains should be guaranteed-operation no-questions-asked
(Though Moorman could get those numbers for sure, I'm pretty sure I'm *underestimating* overhead because I assumed that it didn't increase from 2014 to 2016, and the result is that my calculations assume that more costs are variable costs than reality, and therefore my calculations make the trains look *less* profitable than they really are. Overhead went up by 19% from 2012 to 2014; it probably went up from 2014 to 2016 as well.)
-- It's unacceptable to cut any state services. The states pay for these, including a large percentage of allocated overhead, and the feds can damn well chip in 2% for overhead. The states would be furious if these were cut -- truly furious.
-- Given that the overhead costs will remain regardless of how many train services are cut -- short of cutting the NEC and shutting down Amtrak entirely -- it should be made very clear that only the variable costs would be saved by cutting any given train.
Literally the most which could be possibly saved by cutting long-distance train services (by cutting the ones which are loss-making before overhead only) is $59.2 million per year. Hardly seems worth it, does it?
In actual fact, the supposed "zeroing out of the national network" would simply result in a charge to the NEC to the same amount; there's no other alternative, because it's mostly overhead which would just get reallocated.
I'll go further and go into detail on the *avoidable* losses of the short list of long-distance trains which aren't profitable before overhead. And remember that because of the way my overhead estimation works, it's quite likely that these trains are more profitable than I think.
-- Coast Starlight -- $1.8 million per year loss (possibly profitable). And connects Los Angeles to the Bay Area and to Washington and Oregon. Obviously worth it, probably profitable next year.
-- Cardinal -- $3.2 million per year. Would be profitable if it were daily. If you cut this, you tick off southern Ohio. They've been trying to get a new station.
-- Empire Builder -- $3.5 million per year. With huge political support from every state along the route except Idaho.
-- CONO -- $4.1 million per year. Illinois likes having the third frequency on the Illini/Saluki route, and it has serious support in Mississippi now, as well as New Orleans.
-- Capitol Limited -- $4.7 million per year, which is probably covered by the value of connecting traffic to the Southern trains.
-- Texas Eagle -- $8.7 million per year. Illinois and Missouri like the extra frequency on the Lincoln Service; Texas has actually stepped up and funded this when it was threatened in the past.
-- Southwest Chief -- $10.2 million per year. Even a proposed reroute which would have improved service was rejected by massive political support. I don't think this can be cancelled.
-- California Zephyr -- $10.4 million per year. You want to tick off Colorado? I don't think so. Amtrak wouldn't be able to run the Ski Train without the Zephyr service base, too. Nevada likes having service to Reno.
-- Sunset Limited -- $13.2 million per year (because it's three-a-week, doesn't stop in Phoenix, etc.) Honestly, this is the only train in the *entire* Amtrak system which is both unprofitable and lacks a powerful political lobby.
The correct "compromise" is to offer to zero the Federal Highway System budget along with the Amtrak budget. Amtrak would survive; the unprofitable highways would not.
If the demand from the Congressional negotiators is "you must cut something!!!!", then the Sunset Limited is the only possible choice.
YEEEESSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Cut funding for anything above essential two lane roads, and even then the two lane roads will lose money while Amtrak is possibly overloaded with intercity traffic as the gas tax skyrockets and automobile ownership plummets, like in Europe. And I'm not saying eradicate highways, I know how essential they are to country life, especially to farmers and my long distance bike trips (I ride a lot). If there was better public transit, my dad wouldn't need a car, but because it takes an hour to go 8 miles on public transit, we have to have a car when it's not feasible to bike.