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Amtrak crash cited in Capitol Hill infrastructure funding fight

Investigators and first responders work Wednesday, May 13,

Investigators and first responders work Wednesday, May 13, 2015, near the wreckage of an Amtrak passenger train from Washington, D.C. to New York City that derailed late Tuesday night in Philadelphia. Seven people were killed and at least 200 others were injured, officials said. Credit: Getty Images / Win McNamee

WASHINGTON -- The deadly Amtrak crash in Philadelphia was seized on Wednesday by Rep. Steve Israel and other Democrats as well as a group of bipartisan mayors led by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio as a symbol of Republicans' failure to adequately fund rail and infrastructure projects.

While the causes of the wreck are under investigation, Democrats and the mayors pointed to the derailment as a "wake-up call" to spend more federal dollars to fix highways, bridges and other infrastructure.

At a House subcommittee meeting on transportation and housing spending, Democrats attacked a Republican proposal to cut $250 million from Amtrak's current $1.4 billion infrastructure funding in the 2016 appropriation, despite the White House's request for an increase to $2.45 billion.

Saying Americans expect Congress to adequately fund transportation, Israel (D-Huntington) said, "Last night we failed them. We failed to invest in their safety."

Israel added, "It's not just our trains, it is our bridges that are failing. It is our highways that are crowded and filled with potholes. It is our runways at our airports. . . . We are divesting from America."

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Rye), said, "Last night's deadly Amtrak crash in Philadelphia puts in stark focus potential implications of slashing its funding drastically."

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), the committee chairman, defended the cuts, saying they're required by a 2011 budget law known as sequestration that reduces funding.

The GOP's subcommittee majority voted down Democrats' amendments to boost Amtrak and other funding, but a firmer decision won't come until later this year when the House negotiates spending levels for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

At the same time, 30 mayors in the U.S. Conference of Mayors converged on Capitol Hill to urge lawmakers to renew the highway trust fund that expires May 31 -- and they also cited the Amtrak derailment.

At a news conference, de Blasio called the Amtrak crash "a painful coincidence" with the mayor's lobbying day in Washington, but he also called it "a wake-up call."

Asked for a reaction to the Amtrak cuts by the House subcommittee, de Blasio turned over the microphone to Republican Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett. "I think the lack of support for Amtrak is outrageous," Cornett said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who on Sunday called for the FCC to extend emergency-radio access to railway police, Wednesday urged Congress to pay attention to railroad safety.

In a statement with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Schumer said, "We simply cannot ignore the shrieking whistles of warning telling us: it is long past time to upgrade our rail infrastructure and implement comprehensive railroad safety reform."

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