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House Republicans Slash Amtrak's Budget Hours After Seven Die in Derailment

The timeliness of the debate on Amtrak's budget could not have been worse for House Republicans who appeared insensitive at best in approving almost a 20 percent cut in funding after the fatal Philadelphia derailment that sent 200 to hospitals.
May 15, 2015, 7am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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The GOP-led House Appropriations Committee, meeting the morning after Tuesday night's fatal Amtrak crash in Philadelphia, "approved a funding cut for Amtrak over the objection of Democrats who linked the proposed reduction to the wreck," write Keith Laing and Rebecca Shabad of The Hill. "The GOP-sponsored transportation and housing bill contains $1.13 billion for Amtrak, down from roughly $1.4 billion Congress appropriated for 2015." [A reduction of $.27 billion].

"Guns vs. Butter" on Capitol Hill with butter being Amtrak?

"In contrast with Wednesday’s fighting, the Pentagon appropriations subcommittee will have...about $45 billion more than the $534 billion distributed among the 11 other annual bills that must keep the rest of the government operating through the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1," writes David Rogers of Politico. That's a 7 percent increase over last year's budget, according to Andrew Taylor of The Associated Press.

The Hill captured the partisan tension on that Appropriations panel.

“Last night, we failed them,” said Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), an appropriator. “We failed to invest in their safety. We failed to make their safety our priority. “We are divesting from America in this committee. ... It defies the interests of the American people.”

“I was disappointed to hear my colleague talk about the funding for Amtrak and to suggest that because we haven’t funded it, that’s what caused that accident, when you have no idea what caused the accident,” Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) said.

While it is true that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has not determined the cause of the derailment, they have determined what would have prevented it: Positive Train Control, which is present on other sections of the Northeast Corridor.

So why would Republican appropriators cut Amtrak funding the day after seven died in a preventable train derailment? Insight can be gained from the words of Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.) who indicated that when the bill came the floor, he would support "amendments to make sure that there is stable funding on the Northeast Corridor."

"The Congressman from the 6th District does not want to add to what he feels is wasteful spending, but instead force Amtrak’s hands in becoming morefficient," reports CBS Philly.

I don’t think that we should be cutting it. I don’t think that we should necessarily be adding to it, but there’s a lot of waste in our government and looking at the Northeast Corridor…I don’t think that we should be padding it.

Would increasing Amtrak's budget to pay for Positive Train Control be "padding it"? Describing PTC, CNN indicates that "(a) system that can stop accidents sounds like a no-brainer. But there's a catch: It's expensive."

What price do you put on seven lives?

Hat tip: AASHTO Daily Transportation Update

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Published on Wednesday, May 13, 2015 in The Hill
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