As the question of what Amtrak will do going forward to improve railroad safety on the Northeast Corridor, one Philadelphian holds a position in which he can suggest change: U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah.
He’s a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, which decides where more than $1 trillion in discretionary spending goes. Fattah wants more of that money for the Northeast Corridor, and the trains that travel it. But he realizes the struggle that’s ahead for America to invest in train infrastructure.
“One party thinks we should invest in passenger rail and mass transit,” Fattah says, referring to Democrats, “and the other party doesn’t.”
Here are four observations Fattah shared with Billy Penn on the Amtrak 188 crash, the House Appropriation Committee’s decision to reduce funding for Amtrak and what should be done in the future.
The House Appropriations Committee screwed up on Wednesday morning
Less than 24 hours after Amtrak 188 crashed in Philadelphia, the House Appropriations Committee met in Washington and voted 30-21 on party lines for a GOP bill that would cut funding for Amtrak by $251 million (down from over $1.3 billion annually to $1.1 billion). Fattah says the Appropriations Committee should have chosen to approve President Barack Obama’s proposed funding plan for Amtrak, which would have raised its annual total to $2.4 billion and an extra $556 million for the Northeast Corridor.
“The (Republicans) could have delayed the meeting out of respect for those in the accident but they decided to go forward and vote on party line votes,” Fattah says. “That is not unusual.”
Congress should not take away safety measures
Fattah pointed out that some lawmakers in recent months had called for delaying the required implementation of positive control from the end of this year to 2018 or 2020. Positive control could have remotely slowed the train and prevented the crash. “The last people making that decision should be politicians,” he says.
The Northeast Corridor needs $117 billion to reach its full potential for speed and safety
Fattah emphasized that the needed figure is “billion with a B” for Amtrak to get high speed rail, which proponents say would particularly benefit Philadelphia. “If we’re going to have passenger rail, we’re going to need to make it safe and make it efficient,” Fattah says. “It’s going to require investment.”
America has fallen behind
The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report ranked America 12th in the world in infrastructure. If anything can bring Republicans and Democrats together, Fattah says, it would be something like that falling ranking. “Our airports, bridges, railroads and highways are in pretty bad shape,” he says, “but we can’t fix them without money.”