Before investigators have even determined the cause of the deadly Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia, the tragedy has gotten political.
The House Appropriations Committee had previously scheduled a meeting to consider a transportation bill that includes Amtrak funding, with lawmakers split on reducing or increasing funding for rail infrastructure.
Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), vice-chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters on the Hill today that lawmakers should be reminded of the “chaos that has ensued” since the Washington to New York line went down.
“It is a reminder of the investments that need to be made to continue to make sure our tracks and our roads and bridges are in place, but right now, I think the focus needs to be on the loss of life, the injuries that are sustained and the need to get that operation up and running again as soon as possible,” Crowley said.
“We see what happens when something happens that is unexpected,” caucus chairman Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) said. “Last night, a tragedy involving a couple hundred — 200 or 300 passengers who were on an Amtrak train headed to New York suffered, in some cases, death, grave injury. We — our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the Americans who have lost their lives. I believe the count is six. And there are over 140 who have been injured. And you never know what’s going to happen, but you have to be ready.”
“And we don’t know yet the circumstances behind the derailment of that Amtrak train,” he continued. “But certainly, we want to make sure we’re always doing whatever we can to make sure that Americans are safe, whether it’s riding on a train, or whether it’s knowing that their military forces will be there to protect our national security. And so we have to do everything we can to make sure we are ready. And that’s why we can’t be playing games with something as important as the funding and appropriations and authorization for the Department of Defense.”
Becerra accused Republicans of trying to “return to their social agenda at a time when we’re less than three weeks away from watching money for our transportation programs expire,” including an abortion bill “which will not get a president’s signature.”
Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a joint statement that “it’s too soon to conclude the cause, but one thing is certain and that is that this horrific accident spotlights the urgent need to improve railroad safety all across this country.”
“Crashes and derailments leading to mayhem and death have become far too common, contributing to an alarming spike in railroad-related deaths this last year,” the senators 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.”
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said “while the cause of this derailment will take time to determine, investments in safer cars and positive train control as well as maintaining and improving the curves of the track to handle higher speeds may have prevented an accident like this from happening, or minimized the extent of the damage and injuries.”
“We cannot continue to put public safety in jeopardy by undercutting federal investments in our infrastructure,” Cardin added. “I urge the appropriators in the House of Representatives to pay close attention to this crash and use it as a strong foundation to reconsider their dangerous plan to slash funding for Amtrak and other critical infrastructure.”
The White House reaction wasn’t pushing policy, with Vice President Joe Biden reminiscing on all the times he’s taken Amtrak.
“Amtrak is like a second family to me, as it is for so many other passengers. For my entire career, I’ve made the trip from Wilmington to Washington and back,” Biden said in a statement. “I’ve come to know the conductors, engineers, and other regulars—men and women riding home to kiss their kids goodnight—as we passed the flickering lights of each neighborhood along the way.”
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) was on the train, but got off in Wilmington, before the derailment.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) thought his son was on the train.
“There was a period of time last night when I didn’t know the whereabouts of my son, who was scheduled to be on an Amtrak back to New Jersey, and later found out he was on the next train and safe,” Menendez said. “Unfortunately, many New Jersey families this morning aren’t as fortunate as they search for loved ones and answers.”