WASHINGTON – As a June 2 House hearing on Amtrak was about to wrap up, New York Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin criticized Democrats who were quick to argue that the May 12 derailment of an Amtrak train could have been minimized had the railroad’s funding requests been met over the years.
“I think it’s pretty shameful and disgusting that not even 24 hours go by and we have an entire party here in Congress that was blaming a potential future funding cut on an accident that happened yesterday,” Zeldin said. “I’ve heard of spin, but this is a first for me.”
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Most House Republicans said they will await the National Transportation Safety Board’s final report about the derailment, and they have avoided making the Northeast’s infrastructure a focus of the accident.
Former T&I Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.), a staunch critic of Amtrak, suggested at the hearing that poor management decisions have hindered Amtrak’s operations over the years. To stress his point, Mica’s staff provided members of the press a pamphlet that outlined critical findings from a government watchdog about the national passenger rail service’s budget.
“Fact: The Amtrak Inspector General found that Amtrak paid huge bonuses to ineligible management and staff,” according to the pamphlet (see below).
Shortly after the derailment, Democrats, including Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), were quick to argue safety would have been better had Congress signed off on Amtrak’s budget requests. Democrats are urging GOP leaders to reverse a $260 million proposed reduction in Amtrak’s enacted funding level in a House transportation funding bill for fiscal 2016. That funding reduction might not be included in the Senate’s version, aides said.
On May 12, an Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia, killing eight passengers and injuring about 200. NTSB’s investigation is ongoing.