WASHINGTON -- Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and eight other Democratic senators Thursday urged lawmakers to reject the cut to Amtrak's funding that House Republicans proposed last week and instead boost it for the next fiscal year.
In a news conference a week after a deadly train derailment in Philadelphia, Schumer and his colleagues said Congress should approve President Barack Obama's request for $2 billion for Amtrak, rather than the $1.14 billion proposed by the GOP-controlled House Appropriations Committee last week. Current funding is $1.4 billion.
Unless it gets more funding, Schumer said, "Amtrak will be forced to decide between replacing aging bridges that could become dangerous [and] old and outdated tracks, or installing lifesaving technology on board our trains."
The funding is critical for Amtrak's Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston, a heavily traveled route that includes many 100-year-old bridges and even older tunnels, said Schumer and other Democrats from states along the route.
The Amtrak appropriation for fiscal year 2016 starting on Sept. 30 is now before the transportation subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee. No date has been set yet for a session to debate and decide the Amtrak funding level.
Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), the committee chairman, had no comment on the Democrats' news conference, his spokesman said.
Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee came under fire for approving the funding cut on the day after the Amtrak crash killed eight and injured dozens.
But House Republicans insisted the cut had no effect on safety, and that mismanagement is a bigger problem at Amtrak.
Schumer dismissed that argument. "The Northeast Corridor is profitable, ridership is way up, and the on-time record has improved," Schumer said.
Amtrak has a $21 billion backlog in projects to repair and update infrastructure, such as fixing old bridges, replacing outdated track and straightening dangerous curves on routes, he said.
Amtrak projects in New York that Senate Democrats said need to be addressed but are unfunded include: an $80 million Penn Station improvement program for the Long Island Rail Road; a $165 million Pelham Bay Bridge replacement, and $90 million in Metro-North Hudson Line track improvements.