Kane In Your Corner: Amtrak accident exposes rail infrastructure concerns

Amtrak fatal derailment brings rail infrastructure concerns to light.

Amtrak fatal derailment brings rail infrastructure concerns to light. (5/13/15)

PHILADELPHIA - Tuesday night's deadly Amtrak derailment may have been the result of speeding, with the National Transportation Safety Board now estimating the train was traveling at more than twice the posted 50 mph limit. But a review of federal railroad data by Kane In Your Corner finds the accident also raises concerns about the safety of the railroad's aging infrastructure, especially on its heavily traveled Northeast Corridor line that services New Jersey.

Amtrak loses money every year - the railroad has never broken even - and recent cuts to its federal subsidies have some concerned about maintenance. The railroad says by 2019, it will be more than $4 billion behind on maintenance on its Northeast Corridor line alone. By then, that will represent more than four full years of federal funding.

Deferred maintenance can cause safety issues. In the 10 years before Tuesday's derailment, records from the Federal Railway Administration show Amtrak trains were involved in 55 accidents in Philadelphia County, where Tuesday's crash occurred. Nineteen of those accidents were derailments, and in 18 cases, track defects were listed as a cause. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) says the message is clear. "We need to invest in 21st century systems and equipment and stop relying on patchwork-upgrades to old rusted 19th century rail lines," he says. 

In fact, in this year's application for funding, Amtrak itself warned Congress about what it called "critical infrastructure stressed to the near breaking-point." The railroad called particular attention to the Northeast Corridor, where it said, "Our service in several critical areas depends on aging and outmoded Infrastructure."   

Despite the publicity from the derailment, Congress Wednesday turned down a proposal for a $1 billion increase to Amtrak's funding and approved a 15 percent budget cut for next year.

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