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After fatal derailment, N.J. Sen. Booker pushes bill to fund Amtrak, improve safety

Friday, June 19, 2015   (0 Comments)
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NJ.com 06/19/15

Legislation to renew funding for Amtrak in the wake of last month's fatal derailment was introduced Thursday by U.S. Sens. Cory Booker and Roger Wicker. Booker and Wicker (R-Miss.) delayed the legislation's introduction after the crash in Philadelphia, which killed eight people andsparked a debate in Congress over providing adequate funding for the nation's public works projects, including railroads. The legislation would authorize spending of $6.6 billion a year for Amtrak, though the money would have to be approved in the separate transportation spending bill. The House authorized $5.8 billion over four years in March. Including separate grants, the Senate bill contains $8.9 billion and the House $7.2 billion for Amtrak.

House Republicans voted to cut funding for Amtrak after the crash, reducing the railroad's allocation to $1.14 billion during the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, $251 million less its current allocation. The Senate bill provides for an additional $570 million annually in competitive grants for safety, track improvements, rail service and the Northeast Corridor. "To help the United States compete globally, we must invest in a safe and reliable passenger rail system that Americans can depend on," said Booker (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce subcommittee that oversees Amtrak. "But too often our rail system falls short due to a lack of adequate infrastructure investment." Like the House legislation, the Senate proposal also directs more funding to the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak's most heavily traveled and profitable trains.

It provides grants and loans to install automatic speed control, which the National Transportation Safety Board said would have prevented the Philadelphia crashhad it been in place along that stretch of track. It also would require other actions to address a train's speed. "The tragic accident in Pennsylvania last month was a heartbreaking reminder that the system is far from perfect," Wicker said. Other elements include encouraging development at rail stations and along railroad rights of way, including through private-sector partnerships; and speeding up government approval for permits and funding to improve tracks and other railroad infrastructure.


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