Sometimes an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally and results in damage and injury may technically be considered an accident unless the incident could have been prevented. By now it is relatively certain that the Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia that claimed the lives of eight passengers could have been avoided if Congress had provided the necessary funding to rail carriers commiserate with the mandate to install the Positive Train Control (PTC) feature that would have saved eight lives. Congressional Republicans have not taken any responsibility for their contribution to the deadly derailment or taken any steps to adequately provide funding to ensure the safety of other American travelers whether it is on trains, planes, or automobiles. According to Republicans, America’s transportation infrastructure just does not warrant investment any more than schools, hospitals, electrical grids, or waterways because as House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan claims Republican focus is on saving more money and lying about providing safe rail service for Americans.
Exactly a day after Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee voted in concert to cut about one-fifth of Amtrak’s budget from $1.4 to $1.1 billion for 2016, Paul Ryan did what Republicans do according to their shared party pathology; he lied. Ryan emphatically told Fox News on Wednesday after the Amtrak derailment that, yes, Republicans in Congress had already fully funded implementation of the Positive Train Control safety system it mandated in 2008. Instead of acknowledging that as an austerity-minded Republican his only priority and primary goal for serving in the House is cutting infrastructure spending, Ryan warned that Congress is in no way going to “rush to judgment and try doubling the size of government programs” just because some people died in an accident he said was caused by “human error.”
Ryan asserted that Republicans had already “authorized and mandated the sort of speed control systems to be put in place,” even though he admitted “it wasn’t put in place here at this time” or that it was not in place due to Republican austerity. When Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade asked Ryan whether Congress had actually funded those systems, Ryan lied and responded, “Yes! Yeah, we already passed Amtrak funding, and the appropriations process is working its way through right now.” What Ryan failed to mention is that Republicans passed cuts to Amtrak’s funding for next year and that the appropriation was well below Amtrak’s request which specifically included an allotment to fully implement PTC. In fact, the Republicans’ latest Amtrak funding cuts are well below the past several years’ funding levels. If at any time over the past few years Congress had appropriated the necessary funds to install PTC across the country, there would have been no necessity for the Senate bill filed a couple of weeks ago authorizing a five year delay of the mandatory PTC implementation deadline from December 2015 to 2020.
Not only did Congress not appropriate funding to complete the PTC implementation by this year or by 2020, according to Ryan Republicans have no intent to fund any infrastructure improvements either now or in the future. The Ayn Rand devotee said he hoped “cooler heads can prevail and that people won’t seize on political opportunities out of tragedies like this to spend any more money.” It was an incredibly telling statement, and a portent of more Republican-made disasters, that when Ryan was asked whether he thought rebuilding America’s infrastructure should be a priority he said no. In fact, he acknowledged that yes, the Highway Trust Fund will be bankrupt later this month, but that he will not back increases for infrastructure improvement to “save more money and be more efficient.”
Now Amtrak is reporting that the train that derailed in Philadelphia on Tuesday was equipped with the automatic speed control system (PTC) that would have prevented the deadly derailment. However, although rail officials said the system “was tantalizingly close to being operational,” they admitted that implementation was delayed by budgetary shortfalls, technical hurdles, and bureaucratic rules in dealing with private airwave carriers. Republicans have failed to report that the day after the fatal crash congressional staff members were briefed and learned that “The transponders were on the tracks, but they weren’t operational because of this ongoing spectrum issue.”
Republicans in Congress have consistently failed to provide the railroads with crucial funding or access to the wireless frequencies required to make the PTC system operational. The Republicans’ loyalty to privatization of the airwaves forced Amtrak to spend years negotiating for access to airwaves owned by private corporations that has resulted in a four-year losing battle to pay for the right to access the necessary airwaves in the Northeast Corridor that would allow them to turn the system on. Rail officials confirmed that Amtrak had made installation of the congressionally-mandated safety system a top priority and was ahead of most other railroads around the country. Like everything with Republicans, it is always a lack of adequate funding and in the case of the deadly derailment, it was funding and access to airwaves from private broadband carriers Republicans protect.
As noted above, Republicans are opposed to appropriating any funding for infrastructure while they demand tax cuts for the rich according to Ryan and Republicans’ plan to “save more money and be more efficient” and it is not a new policy. In 2011 “every Senate Republican voted to filibuster and blocked President Obama’s American Jobs Act (AJA) that included appropriating $2 billion to fund repairs and renovation for Amtrak.” The President’s $447 billion jobs act proposed creating hundreds-of-thousands of new jobs, and particular to this topic was the desperately-needed “large scale investment” in rebuilding and repairing the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. In truth, the $447 billion is really a small-scale investment according to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ estimate that about $3 trillion is required to get America’s infrastructure close to a point where the United States can be competitive with the rest of the industrialized world.
As DJchefron commented on Thursday, “Under Subtitle E, Section 241 titled “Immediate Transportation Infrastructure Investments,” the American Jobs Act featured this nugget for the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, also known as Amtrak. In Subsection (e) the AJA makes available $2 billion to Amtrak for the repair, rehabilitation, and upgrade of Amtrak’s assets and infrastructure, including rolling stock.” That $2 billion would have went a long way toward implementing the 2008 Train Safety Act’s mandate that ‘Positive Train Control’ be installed and operational on all passenger and freight trains by the end of 2015; including buying access to private corporations’ wireless networks. The Senate just voted to extend the deadline for PTC implementation about two weeks prior to the Philadelphia derailment and prior to Republicans slashing Amtrak funding by about one-fifth.
Regardless the number of lies from Republicans or Paul Ryan that they have provided funding to complete PTC, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has twice sought extra funding from Congress to finance the PTC technology for Amtrak and other commuter rails. The FRA’s first request for $825 million was ignored, and a second request for extra funding was made just this year for the 2016 budget as part of the Department of Transportation’s Grow America budget. House Republicans not only ignored the second request again this past week, they cut total Amtrak funding guaranteeing Amtrak will not be able to implement the train safety feature in the next fiscal year.
The former administrator for the FRA, Joseph C. Szabo, said; “Clearly, one of the hurdles that Amtrak has and the commuter rail industry has is that this very expensive technology was never funded. The failure to invest in Amtrak’s capital program clearly has been a hindrance in more timely deployment. The way to make public rail a priority would be with public funding.” However, part and parcel of the Republican withholding adequately funding for Amtrak, or any public transportation, is to bankrupt it into oblivion for privatization. There is little doubt the impending wrongful death lawsuits will hasten the financial demise of Amtrak. That human beings perished to achieve their privatization goal is as inconsequential to Republicans as withholding healthcare and food from hungry Americans that according to Republicans like Paul Ryan is crucial to “saving more money” for tax cuts for the rich.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.