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Rendell, Menendez & Casey: Amtrak FundingDSC02374 

JMcGinleySmith/El Hispano

Philadelphia –  Pennsylvania’s former governor Ed Rendell was recently upbraided by ‘National Review’ magazine over an appearance he made on the news program ‘Morning Joe.” Discussing the May12th train accident in Philadelphia, Rendell had, according to NR, mistakenly attributed the accident to “insufficient infrastructure spending.”

The former Philadelphia mayor linked the lack of investment in infrastructure that could have prevented the accident on “Republican stinginess;”  a view the National Review characterized as the “go-to explanation of the left-wing.”

The National Review’s paragraph-long rebuttal argued that culpability for the accident should be laid at “traveling twice the speed limit around the fatal curve.” The prima-facie explanation ignores conclusions of investigations by Amtrak and federal transportation investigators who acknowledged speed led to a derailment that was preventable with Positive Train Control (PTC), a type of equipment  that had been in place on the south-bound section of track.

Moreover, referring to “Amtrak’s fiscal insolvency” and that it “has not turned a profit” since it began operation in 1971, the 169-word NR piece also failed to mention the Northeast Corridor of Amtrak which been profitable for years and is annually increasing its ridership. What is draining profits from Amtrak is the long-distance routes, such as the western “Texas Eagle” between Chicago and Los Angeles, which lost nine percent of its riders in 2014.

The Review diagnosed Rendell as suffering from the familiar ailment of “Beltway liberals,” which is a “mania for passenger train travel,” which is “part of a larger affection for all things European.”

In the aftermath of a May 12th Amtrak train accident both Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) joined other Democratic Legislators in echoing Rendell’s sentimental “mania” for Amtrak, rebuking a Republican leadership that has continually refused to sufficiently fund the nation’s rail system.

“We have a Republican road block for a better economic future, we have a Republican road block toward greater safety in our transportation system,” said Sen. Menendez.

It wasn’t Europe, however, that Sen. Menendez compared the nation’s passenger railroad to, however, but a major economic rival, China. The New Jersey Senator noted that China is investing $128 billion annually in its railroad system. Meanwhile Amtrak is facing an $86 billion maintenance backlog, and “we’re quibbling” over $1 billion or $1.4 billion, said Sen. Menendez. “We should be doing everything we can to stay competitive.”

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Amtrak officials note that half of the 1,000 bridges along the 450-mile Northeast corridor from Boston to Washington D.C. are obsolete or more than one- hundred-years old. At the current funding levels, Amtrak estimates that it would take 300 years to replace all of them.

“We have two concerns, safety and economic growth,” said Sen. Casey.  “Amtrak is not getting the dollars it needs to invest in its future and to invest in growth.”

Recalling the efforts of Philadelphia’s police, fire and medical personnel after the Amtrak accident, Sen. Casey asserted, “Republicans should be bringing that same sense of urgency and determination the first responders brought to their jobs.”

Amtrak President Joseph Boardman views Amtrak as a national asset and a part of our global image: “We’re owned by the (people of) the United States. It’s their railroad, it’s their obligation, it’s their liability and it’s their risk that we’re not going to be able to compete around the globe in the future.”

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