House cuts Amtrak funding 1 day after fatal train crash
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
The House Appropriations Committee voted today to reject increased funding for Amtrak in the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Bill. The funding would have made improvements to the rail service's outdated technology and infrastructure — all of which are in the forefront of the news since a May 12 derailment in Pennsylvania that killed at least seven and injured more than 200.
The cause of the crash appears to be excess speed, as the train was careening around a curve at 100 mph on an area of the track with a 50-70 mph speed limit range, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. And the Associated Press reported that The Federal Railroad Administration inspected tracks in Philadelphia and found no defects.
So what is the root cause of this struggle to increase the budget for rail systems? Basically, it has come down to a debate between Republicans and Democrats — half of whom rely on Amtrak's services, while the other half doesn't.
In March, the House approved legislation to authorize Amtrak to increase the amount of money in the Boston-to-Washington Northeast Corridor, but the vote has not made its way through Senate yet. Today's funding rejection will reduce grants to Amtrak by $251 million. With that said, the funding amount for safety and operations remains the same as in 2014. Democrats had been looking to increase funding from $1.39 billion to $2.45 billion.
One of the detractors of the bill, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) also voted against the last funding bill in 2008. "I believe that passenger rail can and should be a part of our nation's transportation system, but I continue to question how it should be structured and managed," McCain has said. Of the others against Amtrak, all have expressed some form of trying to get rid of the federal rail system as a whole.
On the contrary, advocates stated that even though the funding is needed for outdated infrastructure and technology, they are relieved that the recent bill didn't make major cuts or privatize the rail systems. Supporters say the derailment needs to be studied closely to figure out what exactly happened, thus creating the knowledge of what needs to be improved in the rail system rather than cutting budgets.
Vice President Joe Biden — an avid Amtrak rider — said today, "The victims could have been any one of our parents, children, or someone from one of our communities."
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