Wednesday, April 12, 2017

After NYC mess, senators call for Amtrak funding

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Amtrak forces repairing tracks following an April 3 derailment at New York Penn Station. Amtrak forces repairing tracks following an April 3 derailment at New York Penn Station. Amtrak

Three East Coast senators are highlighting the need for increased funding of Amtrak following two derailments at New York Penn Station.

While Amtrak cited track issues as the cause of the derailments and pledged to evaluate and change maintenance practices to prevent further issues at the hub, the senators say adequate funding of the railroad could have supported critical maintenance programs.

Senators Bob Mendez and Cory Booker (both D-NJ) sent a letter to Senate Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Committee on Appropriations Chairman Susan Collins and Ranking Member Jack Reed, calling for $2.3 billion for the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts capital grant program and $1.6 billion to support Amtrak. The New Starts grant program funding was slashed and Amtrak's funding for long distance service was eliminated in President Donald Trump's proposed Fiscal Year 2018 budget.

"Recognizing the urgent threat to our state and the dire need for infrastructure investment around the country, we urge you to reject President Trump's dangerous proposed cuts and follow the bipartisan congressional commitment to provide robust funding for the CIG and Amtrak," the lawmakers wrote in the letter. "These critical programs will create jobs, provide a significant return on investment, improve reliability and safety, and improve quality of life for the American people."

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said that Amtrak is facing more than a $28-billion state-of-good repair backlog, which could have contributed to the maintenance issues that caused the derailments at Penn Station. Sen. Schumer attributed what he labeled "widespread maintenance issues plaguing the Northeast Corridor" to a lack of funding, and called for a major increase in rail and transit maintenance funding to help address the issue.

In a speech in late March, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said it was the administration's belief that regulations, not a lack of funding, contributed to many infrastructure-related issues.

Sen. Schumer said, "Even the smallest of maintenance issues, left unchecked, can become the reason for the next big delay, or worse, disaster. For far too long, Amtrak has been tremendously under capitalized to the point that they now have an over $28-billion state-of-good-repair backlog. In addition, transit systems across the region lack the necessary funding to make much needed repairs. So, simply put, no matter how hard Amtrak, or other rail systems, work to prioritize safety, because of a lack of funding, some projects and improvements are just not getting done."

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