Today's NYT Editorial Board wrote today something that many of us have been saying for years: Help Amtrak
It may take a while to learn exactly why an Amtrak train speeding out of Philadelphia Tuesday night suddenly derailed on a sharp curve. Whether the train was going too fast or the equipment failed or it was something else entirely, the horrifying accident left at least seven people dead and more than 200 injured on one of the busiest train routes in the country.
Yet, Wednesday morning, while the wreckage lay on the tracks, the Republican majority on the House Appropriations Committee voted to cut Amtrak’s budget by about $260 million. That would reduce Amtrak’s already inadequate appropriations from $1.4 billion to about $1.1 billion.
As a result of meager financing, railroad experts estimated last month that it would take a $21.1 billion just to repair and replace existing assets in the Northeast Corridor that have outlived their “design life” — tracks, ties, electric wires, communications networks, major bridges and tunnels. That does not include new stations, bullet trains or expanding the system. That’s only fixing what’s already in use.
People in countries like France, Japan, Brazil and Spain can depend on government to finance and improve their railway systems. American lawmakers are stubbornly headed in the wrong direction. To thrive, a national railway has to be fully supported as a vital government service.
Why is funding our infrastructure, particularly our rail lines, such a problem?
Because, according to WaPo, Republicans don't use rail travel
There are 184 congressional districts in which not one person got on or off a train in 2014. Sometimes, that was a function of there being a nearby station that saw many more passengers -- like the districts in Manhattan that don't include Penn Station. Sometimes, it's for the obvious reason that there are no rail lines operated by Amtrak (like in Hawaii). But the map above shows wide stretches of the country where rail service is simply not that commonly used. (There's an interactive version of that map below.)
Of those 184 districts, 116 are currently represented by Republicans. On average, ridership in Republican districts was about 41,000 in 2014 -- compared to 261,000 in Democratic districts.
I would like to believe that the death of at least seven people would provide incentive to invest in our rail system. I would like to, but even during this tragedy, we know that the GOP subcommittee voted to slash funding for our rail system.
If our nation can subsidize airline flights for community airports
, we should be able to make sure the country's busiest rail corridor can get people to and from their destination quickly and safely.
The Essential Air Service (EAS) program began in 1978 to ensure commercial flights to small and remote communities. There are more than 100 different routes under the program today, and most of them offer multiple flights each day, but in many cases, the planes are virtually empty.
The cost to taxpayers for subsidizing those journeys has quadrupled in the last decade to a whopping $261 million, which has some lawmakers convinced the program is anything but essential, reports CBS News' Kris Van Cleave.
A 50-seat commercial jet leaves Denver twice daily for two remote North Dakota towns. When CBS News flew to Devils Lake, North Dakota, last week, a town with a population of 7,200, there were rows of empty seats and only four other passengers.
The Department of Transportation shells out over $6 million a year to fund that route, one of 113 in the lower 48 states servicing rural communities like Devils Lake.
Ironically (or not), this was the reason the top GOP representative said when asked why Amtrak should have its funding decreased
Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Kentucky, said Wednesday that the cuts to Amtrak funding were forced by the sequestration spending cuts that were implemented in 2011. "We have no choice but to abide by the law," he said.
Here is the kicker:
The Northeast corridor, where Tuesday's accident took place, is profitable. But Amtrak uses the profit from the corridor to bolster money-losing long distance train lines in other parts of the country, instead of reinvesting in the Northeast corridor infrastructure. Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman wants Congress to set up a fund specifically to address crumbling rails and bridges on the corridor, some of which are 100 years old. One New Jersey bridge on the corridor, the Portal Bridge, which carries 450 trains a day between Newark and Penn Station, is 104 years old and needs to be replaced - at a cost of $940 million (in 2013 dollars).
Speed may have been a factor in the crash yesterday in Philadelphia but a lack of progress is what is slowly killing this great nation.
It is time for our elected officials to do better and be better for all of us. Our lack of infrastructure investment is starting to make us look like a third-world country.
We can do better.