House Votes to Slash Amtrak Funding Just Hours After Horrible Crash

Just hours after seven people were killed and hundreds injured in an Amtrak derailment near Philadelphia, the U.S. House voted to cut funding for the passenger rail service.

Photo: Wikipedia

Early reports suggest the derailment was caused by excessive speed — exactly the type of crash that could be avoided with a new safety system that Amtrak is in the midst of installing on the Northeast Corridor. Watchdogs have identified a lack of funds as one obstacle to timely implementation of the system, known as Positive Train Control.

Nevertheless, the House voted this morning to approve an appropriations bill that cuts Amtrak funding by $260 million.

According to the New York Times, the train was traveling 100 mph on a stretch of track near Frankford Junction where the advised limit is 50 mph:

That area, in the Port Richmond section of the city, does not have a safety system called Positive Train Control that can, among other features, automatically reduce the speed of a train that is going too fast.

MSNBC says the House vote came after a heated debate about whether insufficient infrastructure funding was responsible for the crash.

Federal safety officials have required Amtrak to install Positive Train Control by the end of 2015. A report issued by the Amtrak Inspector General at the end of 2012 [PDF] concluded that a “significant challenge” to meeting the deadline is “ensuring that Amtrak has enough funds available to implement PTC.”

John Olivieri, national campaign director for transportation at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, called the House vote unbelievable. “The nation’s intercity rail network has seen growing ridership and Americans increasingly are looking for alternatives to driving,” he said. “They should be increasing the Amtrak budget, not cutting it.”

  • Joe R.

    Your last sentence really illustrates the problem in a nutshell. There might be people who have great ideas and will be great leaders, but they simply lack the thick skin needed to continually fight those who are against them. Arguably, you’ll need such people to change the system to the one I suggest but those people wouldn’t ultimately become the leaders. What I’m saying here is the best people for the job are often incapable of getting that job due to the process. A great example of this with which I’m intimately familiar are scientists. They’re often great at what they do, but suck at getting funding for their research, or even at getting hired for the job in the first place, because they find the entire process both distasteful, and consider it a waste of their talents.

    On another note, I initially thought Obama might have been in the same league as some of the people you mentioned but he suffered from two problems. One, he doesn’t seem to have much of a spine to really fight for his ideas. Reagan was probably the last President who was good at that, even if he was arguably on the wrong side of history with trickle down economics. Two, he expended quite a bit of political capital getting his controversial health care plan passed. Instead, he should have expended it on far less controversial and far more useful infrastructure spending. Had he pushed things like HSR and better local transit, I think he may have made good progress despite his enemies in Congress.

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