Rich Thomaselli | May 13, 2015 3:35 PM ET
Stop Making Amtrak Such A Political Tug-of-War
Excessive speed is apparently to blame in Tuesday night’s derailment of an Amtrak passenger train traveling the ultra-popular Northeast Corridor route between Washington D.C. and Boston. Several media outlets were reporting Wednesday afternoon that the train was going in excess of 100 miles per hour around a bend near Philadelphia when it derailed.
Most assuredly, that made many politicians happy. “See?” they can say. “It was just going too fast.”
This will be the equivalent of the no-look pass in basketball, the Fumblerooski in football, the hidden ball trick in baseball.
This is the art of deception.
Which is unfortunate when you consider lives were lost, and more than 100 were injured, on Tuesday night. Because no matter what the culprit was, you can’t have this conversation about Amtrak’s derailment without talking about America’s rapidly deteriorating infrastructure and how, sadly, it has become a political tug-of-war between Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
Amtrak is a federally subsidized entity that has seen a decided lack of federal subsidies in last several years.
It happened again today, of all days, barely 12 hours after the derailment. According to CNN the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee voted 30-21 to approve a measure that cuts funding for Amtrak, rejecting a Democratic amendment that would have increased funding for the passenger railroad by $1 billion to $2.4 billion.
By contrast, the Washington Post noted that China’s government will spend $128 billion on its rail system this year.
I’m not here to get into a blame game, nor to take sides in a Red vs. Blue debate. This is a problem that has plagued Amtrak and Congress for decades, through multiple administrations from both sides of the aisle.
“The problem that you have — and you’ve had it since 1976 and even before — is that there’s never been an investment program that would bring the infrastructure up where it belongs on existing capacity,” Amtrak chief executive Joseph Boardman said in an article in The Atlantic last year.
The bottom line is, lives were lost. And Congress is unwilling to spend money on infrastructure. Those are facts.
Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania), chair of the House transportation committee, and Rep. Jeff Denham (R-California), who chairs the railroads subcommittee, released a statement today saying: "Both the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Railroad Administration are on the scene, and while we don't yet know many details, we need to know how this happened and ensure the safety of the system and the millions of Americans who rely on the Northeast Corridor.”
More than 30 million people rode Amtrak last year, and more than a third of that – 11.6 million – rode on that Northeast Corridor in the heavily populated, heavily traveled line from Washington, to Baltimore, up through Delaware to Philadelphia, to New York and on to Boston.
How many more derailments – how many more lives – is it going to take to convince Congress that an investment in our railway infrastructure is an investment worth making?
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