House Democrats: Train Crash Serves as Reminder of Amtrak's Financial Problems

Mel Evans/AP

Hours after a deadly train derailment, the House Appropriations Committee is debating transportation-spending legislation that includes federal funding for Amtrak, rail infrastructure, and safety programs.

Several committee Democrats pointed to Tuesday night's crash as a reminder of Amtrak's chronic financial struggles. The measure, as it stands now, would cut current levels of funding for Amtrak by 18 percent.

"I do hope we can keep the accident in mind, my colleagues, throughout today's markup," said New York Rep. Nita Lowey. "Maybe it can serve as a reminder of the importance of safety programs that are underfunded in this bill."

At least seven people were killed and dozens were injured after Northeast Regional Train 188, traveling from Washington to New York, derailed in Philadelphia Tuesday night. More than 140 people were taken to local hospitals, and eight patients are in critical condition.

The $55 billion transportation bill before the committee would provide $1.1 billion in funding for Amtrak for fiscal year 2016, $251 million less than the previous authorization. This afternoon, Democratic Rep. Chaka Fattah, who is from Pennsylvania, will introduce an amendment that would increase that contribution to $1.3 billion.

"We do know that if we don't invest in the capital infrastructure of our country, there will be future accidents and there will be people who you represent or in your districts who will be facing the circumstances that the people I talked about, who are in hospitals in my district, are facing now," Fattah said at the markup.

Although ridership has increased by about 50 percent in the last 15 years and ridership in the Northeast Corridor reached an all-time high in 2014, Amtrak continues to run a deficit every year, as it has for decades.

Rep. Jose Serrano, a New York Democrat who called himself "the Amtrak poster child" because of his frequent train rides between New York and Washington, said that Congress has "forgotten about Amtrak over the years."

"It's our responsibility to look at Amtrak and ask ourselves a question: Is it in fact that we in this Congress do not care about rail service, or is it a fact that we want to make rail service much better than it is today?" Serrano said.

There were 238 passengers and five crew members aboard train 188, which departed Union Station at 7:15 p.m., Tuesday, according to Amtrak's train-status tracking. It derailed just after 9 p.m., and all seven cars were affected.

The National Transportation Safety Board is on the scene and investigating. The FBI has also dispatched agents to the crash site. ABC's Philadelphia affiliate reports that a black box has been recovered from the train and will be analyzed in Delaware.

Amtrak has canceled all service between New York and Philadelphia for Wednesday.

Priscilla Alvarez contributed to this article.

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