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Amtrak Crash Could Stymie Efforts To Cut Subsidies

In a macabre coincidence, the House held hearings Wednesday to discuss potential cuts to Amtrak funding less than one day after a train derailment that killed seven and injured dozens.

The House Appropriations Committee hearing on FY 2016 transportation spending had already been scheduled, but the derailment of an Amtrak train outside Philadelphia on Tuesday night —which left seven dead and over 200 injured — gave the question of Amtrak funding unexpected significance, CNN reports.

Republican budget hawks have proposed cutting millions from Amtrak’s funding, but supporters of the government-subsidized railroad argue the accident underscores the need to increase appropriations for track maintenance and safety improvements. (RELATED: Amtrak Train Derails in Philadelphia, Killing Six)

“There is clearly more that can be done when we’re talking about a railway infrastructure that is decades-old,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told CNN. “If there’s an opportunity for us to make further investments in our infrastructure that would better safeguard the traveling public, then those are investments that we should make.”

Even some Republicans are advancing similar logic. Rep. Ryan Costello, for instance, told CNN that, “If we’re not investing in our safety for the Northeast Corridor, we’re not doing what we should be doing down here.”

Advocates of funding cuts, on the other hand, believe subsidizing Amtrak’s money-losing operations reinforces complacency within the company, and say the company will never become profitable as long as Congress shields it from the consequences of poor management. (RELATED: Trump on Amtrak Crash: Only Way to Fix Infrastructure is to Elect Me)

Republicans say they want Amtrak to “run more like an actual business, and that if Congress were to reduce funding for Amtrak, it would kind of force the railroad to sink or swim, and change the way it operates,” CBS News Congressional Correspondent Nancy Cordes told WTOP.

One GOP proposal would not only reduce appropriations from $1.4 billion to $1.13 billion, but would also restrict Amtrak’s ability to divert profits from its Northeast Corridor line. The Northeast Corridor, which runs between Baltimore and Washington, is Amtrak’s only profitable line, and is often raided to fund maintenance and improvements on other lines.

“Instead of reinvesting in infrastructure along the corridor … that money goes to those other rail lines around the country that don’t make money,” Cordes explained. As a result, the Northeast Corridor “decay[s] even more, even though it’s sort of the lifeblood of Amtrak itself.” (RELATED: Pet-Friendly Provision Propels Amtrak Bill Through House)

Investigators have not yet determined what caused Tuesday’s crash, but initial reports indicate the train derailed as it entered a curve. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is assisting the National Transportation Safety Board in its investigation, though law enforcement officials have said there is no indication that terrorism was involved.

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