Despite the need for critical investment in railway infrastructure, the Republican-controlled U.S. House has passed legislation that would cut Amtrak’s budget by $242 million. The schism between Congress and Amtrak must end.
Last month, an Amtrak train traveling from Washington, D.C., to New York derailed in Philadelphia, killing eight people and injuring 200. The train was traveling at more than 100 miles per hour in a 50 mph zone when it derailed at a sharp turn. Investigators have found no mechanical problems with the train, but it was not equipped with an automatic braking system.
It’s clear that Congress would rather play politics than improve passenger rail safety and infrastructure. The House allotted $1.3 billion for Amtrak for next year, compared to $2.5 billion sought by President Barack Obama. It’s appalling that lawmakers would propose such drastic cuts to the national railroad passenger corporation when all its trains have not been equipped with modern safety features, including the automatic braking system.
Federal regulators are calling for passenger trains to have two crew members in the train or in close communication when operating in areas without automatic braking. Railroad locomotives used to have a second engineer present to serve as a check and balance, but Congress ended the requirement in 1983.
The nation’s rail system has suffered chronic neglect, resulting in aging tracks, dilapidated equipment and crew shortages. Yet Congress responded by slashing Amtrak’s budget, thus preventing the railroad from making needed improvements.
The United States desperately needs a more balanced transportation system to reduce road congestion, protect the environment, improve air quality, give travelers options and reduce dependence on foreign oil. These interests, as well as passenger safety, should push Congress to support a reliable, safe and convenient network of passenger rail service.