In the same day the nation's eyes were focused on a deadly Amtrak derailment in Pennsylvania, the Republican majority in the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday slashed nearly $260 million from a bill funding the federally-supported railway service.
As the Huffington Post reports:
The House Appropriations committee rejected multiple amendments to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Bill that sought to increase funding for Amtrak. The bill cuts the rail service's funding to $1.14 billion, down $251 million from its current level. Democrats offered amendments to raise that funding to the $2.45 billion requested by President Barack Obama, but Republicans rejected the measures, arguing that increasing Amtrak's funding without cutting spending elsewhere would put the legislation above spending caps and threaten to kill the whole bill.
Democrats said it would be worth going over the spending caps to make travel safer for Americans.
"Yesterday's tragedy in Philadelphia should be a wake-up call to this committee -- we must provide sufficient funding for Amtrak’s critical infrastructure projects to ensure a safer transportation system," David Price (D-N.C.), ranking member of the Appropriations Committee's transportation subcommittee, said in a statement. "The majority’s shortsighted, draconian budget cuts stand in the way of the investments that a great country must make."
With the latest reporting indicating that seven people were killed and hundreds injured when the train—reportedly moving at twice the allowed speed limit—derailed in Philadelphia late Tuesday night, the cut to Amtrak funding was met with ire by public interest and consumer safety advocates.
"It is unbelievable that Congress would vote to cut Amtrak funding just hours after this tragedy," said John Olivieri, national campaign director for transportation at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG). "The nation’s intercity rail network has seen growing ridership and Americans increasingly are looking for alternatives to driving. They should be increasing the Amtrak budget, not cutting it."
Though the idea that speed may have played a significant role in the derailment was coming into view late on Wednesday, MSNBC's Zachary Roth reports that GOP attempts to cut funding for Amtrak is nothing new:
It’s not yet clear what caused the derailment. But Amtrak, a public funded rail service that’s run as a private corporation, has long been in the cross-hairs of Congressional budget-cutters, including high-profile figures like Sens. John McCain and Tom Coburn, and George W. Bush—even as its outdated technology and infrastructure require increasing upgrades, and ridership increases.
Amtrak’s critics—many of whom are ideologically committed to shrinking government, and represent areas of the country that aren’t heavily dependent on passenger rail transport—describe the system as wasteful and inefficient. Its supporters, including labor unions and many northeastern elected officials, say the problem is that Amtrak, which moves 32 million people a year, has long been inadequately funded.
"Amtrak has been nickel and dimed to death for its entire history," said Ed Wytkind of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department. "But when something goes wrong, they blame Amtrak, despite all the resource-starving."
Wytkind made clear that since the cause of the derailment isn’t yet known, he wasn’t linking it to Amtrak’s funding issues.
Still, he said, "it’s appropriate for the media to ask questions about whether this company has the resources it needs, and if not, why is Congress not funding it, when both Republicans and Democrats rely on Amtrak. I think that’s a legitimate question to ask today in the context of Philadelphia."
On Twitter, criticism of the GOP for slashing was Amtrak funds in the wake of the deadly derailment was trending: