"Amtrak Isn't Underfunded; it is Mismanaged"

Hours after we learned of the Amtrak crash on the Northeast Corridor that killed eight people, big government liberals raced to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to blame conservatives. According to several congressmen, it’s the Republicans fault that innocent passengers tragically died on Amtrak last Monday night. Their only proposed solution is to pour more taxpayer money into this railroad system that has been plagued by mismanagement and unsafe working conditions –to name just a few of its serious problems.

Last February, Amtrak’s Inspector General “found that Amtrak has the least-safe working environment of any major railroad. Amtrak employees are more than three times as likely to be injured or killed on the job as employees of BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern, or Union Pacific.” The report continued on to say that employees believe today that they “can ignore rules and safe practices with impunity.”

According to Randall O’Toole of The Cato Institute, “one reason why Amtrak has a poor safety record may be that Congress has legally limited Amtrak’s liability for any single crash to $200 million. Imagine the outrage if Congress limited the liability of oil companies, pipeline companies, Monsanto, or other private corporations. Yet the progressives who wrote Amtrak legislation consider such a liability limit perfectly acceptable.”
O’Toole went on further to explain that the crash appears to be the result of speeding. Many rail advocates are pressing the need for greater safety equipment to be installed upon the busy Northeast Corridor rail lines. It must surprise them that, according to O’Toole “[I]n 2008, President Bush signed a law mandating that most railroads, including Amtrak, install positive train control (PTC) by December 2015. PTC would force trains to slow or stop if the operator ignored signals or speed limits.”

Furthermore, “[I]n 2009 and 2010, President Obama asked a Democratic Congress to give him $10 billion to spend on high-speed trains, and Congress agreed. Not one cent of that money went to installing PTC in Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor….PTC would have prevented this accident. There was plenty of money available to install it, but the Obama administration, in its infinite wisdom, chose to spend it elsewhere. ..It would have been embarrassing to realize that the government-run Amtrak hadn’t yet completed installation of PTC on its highest-speed corridor. Today, it’s a tragedy. But how is that the fault of fiscal conservatives?”

Finally, O’Toole correctly asserted that under the Obama administration, more transportation money has been poured into rail “new starts” programs such as the Southwest Corridor in Hennepin County – a rail line that is now projected to cost taxpayers nearly $2 billion just for construction – than preserving outdated infrastructure that already had plenty of safety money in the pipeline to prevent this unnecessary tragedy. As John Nolte of The Washington Times said, “Amtrak is not underfunded; it is mismanaged.”

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