As Congress prepares to debate the future of Amtrak, a recent spree of fatal incidents isn’t helping the railroad’s already tarnished image.
Congress has been debating the highway and mass transit budget for the past two years, following the expiration of the six-year transportation spending bill in 2009.
Recent studies from the Urban Land Institute and a group of 80 former transportation executives conclude that the U.S. needs to spend $2 trillion in total––up to $262 billion a year––to maintain the infrastructure of our highways, rail networks and air transportation systems.
Last month, Republicans proposed a bill that would remove from the Amtrak system the highly trafficked Northeastern corridor running from Washington, DC to Boston. Privatizing the Northeast corridor is just one element of a Republican plan to reduce transportation funding by up to a third.
Republicans argue that privatizing Amtrak would more quickly establish an efficient high-speed rail system, though that has never happened anywhere else in the world. The Northeastern corridor that Republicans are seeking to privatize is the only lucrative and successful part of the Amtrak system. Without the revenues generated by the popular routes of the Northeast, Amtrak’s funding crisis would grow far worse.
Get the Travel Detective’s take on our national rail system: Amtrak: American Embarrassment And Cause Of Airport Overcrowding
Throughout these budget debates members of the GOP have successfully blocked many of the Obama administration’s plans to invest in a high-speed rail system. Republican Governor Rick Scott of Florida derailed a high-speed line that would’ve connected Tampa and Orlando. Several other Republican governors rejected additional funding for the renovation and upgrading of local rail lines.
These transportation budget debates come on the heels of the June 24 fatal crash outside Nevada. Five people were found dead after truck driver Lawrence Valli crashed through a crossing gate and smashed into an Amtrak train at a rural crossing 70 miles east of Reno.
Other recent incidents cast a light on track security. This past weekend, a 27-year-old woman was killed by an Amtrak train in Richmond, California. The incident occurred because the woman was in the tracks of the train near the station. This past weekend, a 25-year-old man was also struck by a train and killed falling on the tracks in Illinois near Riverview Park.
Beyond the need for improved track security, many trains are in need of maintenance. On July 5, approximately 350 people were stuck on an Amtrak train from Chicago that stopped near an Illinois cornfield after having fuel problems. The passengers were unable to leave the train for over an hour and were trapped without air conditioning and with the doors closed.
Though one corridor of the Amtrak network seems in jeopardy, the Department of Transportation continues to invest in track maintenance and improvements elsewhere.
On July 5, the Department of Transportation awarded $72.8 to Massachusetts to refurbish 50 miles of tracks on Amtrak’s Vermonter line that travels from Washington, D.C. to St. Albans, Vermont. Last year, Vermont was awarded an additional $50 million to refurbish its section of the line.
By Lily J. Kosner for PeterGreenberg.com.
Related Links on PeterGreenberg.com:
- Amtrak: American Embarrassment And Cause Of Airport Overcrowding
- Amtrak’s East Coast High-Speed Rail Plan
- Amtrak Reports Rising Ridership
- Obama Includes Struggling Amtrak In Economic Stimulus Plan
- No Fly List For Trains: Senator Proposes No Ride List For Amtrak
- Train Travel section