BY U.S. PIRG MAY 13TH, 2015
While it’s unclear whether last night’s Amtrak derailment near Philadelphia was directly the result of inadequate maintenance and repair, the tragedy highlights the need for Congress to adequately fund transit infrastructure, repair and maintenance.
Just hours after the accident, the House Appropriations Committee voted to cut Amtrak funding by $260 million. “It is unbelievable that Congress would vote to cut Amtrak funding just hours after this tragedy,” said John Olivieri, National Campaign Director for Transportation at the United States Public Interest Research Group. “The nation’s intercity rail network has seen growing ridership and Americans increasingly are looking for alternatives to driving. They should be increasing the Amtrak budget, not cutting it.”
A report last night from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund showed that federal subsidies to Amtrak in its entire 40 year-plus history are less than federal subsidies to highways just since 2008. These figures are general taxes, not user fees. While highways are often viewed as paying for themselves, the analysis found that less than half of highway construction and maintenance at all levels of government is actually covered by gas taxes or other user fees.
“It makes no sense that our passenger rail network is punished for not paying for itself while highways don’t either,” said Olivieri. “Infrastructure investments can be expensive, but the question should be whether it delivers adequate benefits to the public, not fairy tale notions that it will pay for itself. We don’t ask sidewalks to pay for themselves,” he added.
Amtrak statistics show growing ridership in recent years, even while driving has stagnated or declined. With ridership of 11.6 million, the Northeast Corridor had its highest ridership year ever in fiscal year 2014, up 3.3 percent from the prior year.
U.S. PIRG is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.