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Congress needs unity on $1 trillion transit spending, Schumer says

Sen. Chuck Schumer, speaking outside Penn Station in

Sen. Chuck Schumer, speaking outside Penn Station in Manhattan on Sunday, April 9, 2017, said he will push to prioritize investing in U.S. rail systems, saying it's needed to avert further derailments. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Sen. Chuck Schumer on Sunday urged Congress to “come together and compromise” on a $1 trillion infrastructure spending package that would include funding to repair the region’s aging rail system.

Schumer’s push for lawmakers to act in a bipartisan fashion comes after two train derailments in the past two weeks that caused massive delays for commuters, including Long Island Rail Road passengers.

Speaking at a news conference in front of Penn Station, Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate minority leader, noted that last week’s derailment of an NJ Transit train at the station was caused by damaged wooden track ties that were long in need of repair.

Amtrak, which owns and maintains tracks used by the LIRR and NJ Transit at the station, said last week that inspectors had recently documented that the track ties were in need of repair, but did not act sooner on repair work because there did not appear to be an imminent safety threat. Amtrak officials have said they are grappling with a $28 billion repair backlog due to funding shortages.

“Maddening delays for rail commuters across the region from Long Island to New Jersey have exposed the repair backlog like never before,” Schumer said. “Even the smallest of maintenance issues, left unchecked, can become the reason for the next big delay, or worse, disaster.”

On March 24, an Amtrak Acela train derailed at Penn Station and hit an NJ Transit train. The incident led to massive service delays for New Jersey commuters heading into and out of the midtown Manhattan station.

President Donald Trump has proposed spending $1 trillion in infrastructure projects, and last week told The New York Times he was considering “accelerating” the introduction of an infrastructure spending bill because it was a “popular” idea among both major parties.

Senate Democrats in January introduced their own $180 billion infrastructure spending package that proposed sweeping upgrades to the nation’s roadways, bridges and other transportation systems over the next decade.

Schumer said he was “hopeful” Republicans and Democrats could work together on a compromise spending bill that would fast-track much-needed rail repairs.

“It’s like your house,” Schumer said of the rail repairs. “If you stop investing in it, leaks occur, cracks occur, everything else occurs. You need to invest in it. If you defer ... it leads to problems and eventually to disaster.”

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