House panel vote to cut Amtrak budget nearly 20% despite deadly crash

NTSB Recorder Specialist Cassandra Johnson works with officials on the scene of the Amtrak Train #188 Derailment in Philadelphia, PA. (Flickr/National Transportation Safety Board)

NTSB Recorder Specialist Cassandra Johnson works with officials on the scene of the Amtrak Train #188 Derailment in Philadelphia, PA. (Flickr/National Transportation Safety Board)

Despite Tuesday’s deadly Amtrak crash that killed seven and left 200 injured in Philadelphia, the House Appropriations Committee backed a $55 billion transportation bill that would cut roughly $251 million from Amtrak’s budget.

Wednesday’s 30-21 vote was conducted along party lines, with
Republicans voting in favor of the budget cut and Democrats
lining up against it. If passed into law, Amtrak’s budget
allocation would be $1.13 billion in the upcoming fiscal year,
down from nearly $1.4 billion.

Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee Harold Rogers
(R-Ky.) said the majority of Republicans – who are in control of
Congress – were hamstrung in their voting because of automatic
spending cuts set to take place as a result of a budget deal
between Obama and Republicans in 2011.

READ MORE: 55 injured as Amtrak train derails in
N. Carolina after truck collision

We have no choice but to abide by the law,” Rogers told

President Barack Obama had asked for almost $2.5 billion for
Amtrak in his February budget, to be used for capital investment
in tracks, tunnels and bridges. The request included $400 million
in grants for capital construction along Amtrak’s Northeast
corridor, where last night’s accident happened. “Every day,
tens of thousands of passengers travel our nation’s railways on
Amtrak — a majority of those along the Northeast Corridor where
yesterday’s tragic accident occurred,
” said Rep. Chaka
Fattah, who represents Philadelphia, during the vote debate.
These riders deserve safe, secure, and modern

Republicans accused House Democrats of jumping to conclusions
about poor funding and train crashes. They blocked amendments
that would have boosted funding to Amtrak. One such amendment
would have provided the train network with $2.5 billion.

“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) told the

White House spokesman
Josh Earnest told reporters Obama’s budget called for a $1
billion increase in funding for Amtrak and criticized Republicans
for backing cuts to the rail agency.

Increased Amtrak funding
is “
good for our
infrastructure, good for our economy,”
he said, adding that it is “not reflected in the Republican

The bill will now head
to the House floor.

READ MORE: Derailed Amtrak train was going 100mph
on sharp curve

Investigators said in their preliminary investigation that
Tuesday’s derailed Amtrak train was carrying 238 passengers and
five crew members, and exceeded 100 miles per hour on a curved
part of the track that had a 50 mph limit.

Rescue workers are still searching through the wreckage of Amtrak
train number 188. Seven people have been confirmed dead and more
than 200 have been treated for injuries at Philadelphia
hospitals. The authorities have not yet accounted for all 243
people on board.

“We have made really good progress in accounting for the
majority of individuals, but we still have folks that we’d like
to hear from,”
Sam Phillips, Philadelphia’s director of
emergency management, told reporters.

Passenger rail services along the Northeast Corridor, the busiest
in the US with 12 million passengers a year, remain on hold.
Commuter rail services that share Amtrak’s tracks in the
Philadelphia area have also been suspended. The service is used
by many Congress members to travel to and from their home

READ MORE: Off the rails: US railway crisis
blamed on lack of funding, crumbling infrastructure

Also pressing for long-term infrastructure funding are the
nation’s mayors, who are meeting this week in Washington, DC. At
a press conference of a bipartisan coalition of mayors, New York
City Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters that every one of his
colleagues have infrastructure that’s starting to fail or is
intensely insufficient.

When you put that in the context of not just safety of our
people or the strength of our local economies – but when you put
it in the context of our ability to compete in a globalized world
– our nation’s ability to compete economically – all the
indicators point to one thing – you only can move forward if you
invest. We know our competitors are investing,”
said de

“The United States –
strongest nation on the earth – puts 1.7 percent of its GDP into
infrastructure. Europe puts 5 percent of their GDP. China puts 9
percent of their GDP into infrastructure investments. Is it any
wonder that our competitors are starting to out-distance us
economically. We can’t let it happen. And here, in these next 18
days, decisions will be made that will frame our

De Blasio told reporters New York has 100 bridges that are 100
years old and, while the city had increased budget spending on
infrastructure by 50 percent, it needs the help from the state
legislature and federal partners.

Federal investment has not kept pace with this demand,
resulting in an outdated, overburdened surface transportation
system that is ill equipped to handle current, let alone
need,” he said.

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