Fixing Amtrak is not ‘stupid’


One thing you can say about many House Republicans: They’re not only hardheaded, they’re hardhearted.

Less than 24 hours after the Amtrak derailment that killed eight people, all 30 Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee voted to cut Amtrak’s budget by 20 percent; 21 Democrats on the committee voted against the cuts.

Then, as if to prove how mean-spirited they are, Republicans also banded together to defeat an amendment providing $825 million in emergency funds to install “positive train control” technology on that section of the Northeast Corridor, despite the endorsement of National Transportation Board Safety member Robert Sumwalt, who told reporters in Philadelphia that “Based on what we know right now, we feel that had such a system been installed in this section of track, this accident would not have occurred.”

But don’t tell that to Republicans on the Appropriations Committee. They don’t care.

{mosads}True, Philadelphia’s derailment was apparently caused by excessive speed, not track bed failure. But last Tuesday’s accident still serves as a shocking reminder of the shameful conditions under which Amtrak operates.

The Northeast Corridor, from Washington to Boston, is America’s busiest rail system, used by 2,200 trains and 750,000 passengers per day. Yet it operates with many bridges and tunnels that are more than 100 years old, electric signals installed before World War II and many railcars built before 1975.

Of course, it’s not just our rail system that we’ve failed to upgrade to today’s standards, but our roads, highways, bridges, tunnels, power plants, water and sewage treatment plants and electric grid. We depend on all of these things for convenience of life. As New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett (R) reminded Congress last week, the United States today spends only 2 percent of its gross domestic product on infrastructure, a 20-year low. Europe spends 5 percent; China, 9 percent; and India, 8 percent.

That’s right. We spend less on infrastructure than India. And this is why, especially when it comes to public transit, the United States is a third-world country.

It’s not just rail transportation we’re falling behind on. This debate over our broken-down rail system takes place as funding for the Highway Trust Fund is set to run out on May 31. This issue used to be a no-brainer. Repairing our roads and building new ones was the one issue — good for business, good for jobs — on which Republicans and Democrats could readily agree.

But no longer. Now it, too, has become a political football, with House and Senate Republicans refusing to extend the trust fund — a move Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee last week denounced as “incredibly irresponsible” and an “abdication of leadership.”

For even daring to raise a question about cutting Amtrak’s budget, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) last week berated a reporter: “Are you really going to ask such a stupid question?” No, Mr. Speaker, you’ve got it backward. What’s stupid is not asking questions about the adequacy of Amtrak funding. What’s stupid is not funding Amtrak adequately.

Press is host of “The Bill Press Show” on Free Speech TV and author of The Obama Hate Machine.

Tags Amtrak Bill de Blasio Bob Corker Highway Trust Fund Infrastructure John Boehner Mick Cornett National Transportation Safety Board NTSB rail Rail transportation in the United States Train

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