Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Amtrak Budget Debate "Puts Safety and Congestion at Stake"

Dan Heyman, Public News Service (PA)
PHOTO: The Senate Appropriations Committee gets back to work on Amtrak's budget, and Senators from the Northeast Corridor say the issue not only impacts train safety, but traffic jams as well. Photo credit - National Transportation Safety Board.
PHOTO: The Senate Appropriations Committee gets back to work on Amtrak's budget, and Senators from the Northeast Corridor say the issue not only impacts train safety, but traffic jams as well. Photo credit - National Transportation Safety Board.

HARRISBURG, Pa. - As folks head back to work after the holiday, Senators along the Northeast corridor say the rails would be a whole lot safer and the roads less clogged if Amtrak were properly funded.

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy says Japan's Bullet train hurtles along at 200 miles per hour but has never had a fatal accident. He says the same is true in France because both nations have made significant investments in railroad infrastructure. But he says Congress has left Amtrak with a $21 billion backlog.

"We've made the opposite decision" says Murphy. "So it should come as no shock that every couple months, we are going to turn on the TV news and see another crash another set of fatalities on the Northeast corridor line."

Last week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said it was stupid for Democrats to suggest that Republican budget cuts might have contributed to the Amtrak derailment that left eight dead near Philadelphia. Last week seven Northeast Senate Democrats called for full funding of Amtrak's request.

According to Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, a fifth of the nation's Gross Domestic Product is housed along the Northeast corridor. And he says many of his constituents likely did some fist shaking while stuck in traffic jams over the long weekend, people who could benefit from better train service.

"I'm hoping that they will direct those curses and those fists at John Boehner and the Republicans in the House that are blocking effective Amtrak transportation," says Blumenthal.

Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania says given the safety and economic issues at stake, senators need to approach the issue with same focus as the first responders he spoke to after the accident like woman who drove an hour home after a full day's work, but went right back when she heard what had happened.

"Turned right around and came back, because she knew she had a job to do," says Casey. "We should be bringing the same sense of urgency and determination that those first responders brought to their job last week."

President Obama's budget includes $500 million in capital improvement for the Northeast Corridor, and Murphy says that's a step in the right direction, but it's not enough to take care of the backlog.

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