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Democrats did not hesitate to call for additional infrastructure spending for Amtrak immediately after the deadly derailment Tuesday evening, despite a $1.3 billion investment in the company from the 2009 stimulus law.
According to Recovery.gov, Amtrak received $1,295,804,688 from President Barack Obama’s stimulus law through a grant from the Department of Transportation (DOT) filed under “Other Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction.”
The grant noted that roughly 50 percent of the money went to “infrastructure improvements” in the Northeast Corridor.
The funding, all of which has been allocated, paid for 154 individual projects in 46 states, and the District of Columbia. The grant mandated that at least $850 million go directly to infrastructure.
“The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) appropriated $1.3 billion to Amtrak for capital investment,” the grant states. “The ARRA requires that Amtrak allocate $850 million for funding to rebuild and modernize infrastructure and equipment.”
The $1.3 billion from the stimulus law was on top of Amtrak’s $1.488 billion budget in 2009. The stimulus funds were allocated between 2009 and 2011.
“Amtrak’s projects align very well with the ARRA goals, particularly with respect to investing in transportation infrastructure,” the grant said. “A key goal for Amtrak is to reduce its state of good repair backlog, that is, investments that are needed to renew Amtrak assets and return them to a state of good repair.”
The derailed train was traveling at 106 mph on a curve that had a 50 mph speed limit seconds before it went off the tracks, killing eight people and leaving more than 200 others injured. The engineer driving the train attempted to hit the emergency break, dropping its speed to 102 mph at the moment of derailment, but has “no recollection” of the crash, according to his lawyer.
Democrats rushed to blame Republicans in the immediate aftermath of the accident, accusing the GOP of not spending enough on infrastructure.
“This country actually has to invest in infrastructure the way other countries do,” said Democratic Mayor of New York City Bill De Blasio.
“We have not been investing in transportation infrastructure at the level that we should,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D., Md.).
“We’ve neglected all of our infrastructure,” added Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.).
Democrats also blasted Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee for a vote Wednesday to cut Amtrak’s capital spending budget, which, according to CNN, “wouldn't touch funding levels for safety and operations.”
The Committee voted 30-21 to reduce Amtrak’s capital grants by roughly $252 million, leaving its total budget at $1.1 billion. Capital grant spending had increased after the Republican take over of the House in 2010, from $594 million to $658 million in FY 2011. Capital grants totaled $616 million in FY 2012, and $642 million in FY 2013.
MSNBC Morning Joe Host Joe Scarborough questioned former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D.) on the issue of Amtrak’s stimulus funds.
“So what happened with the stimulus bill?" Scarborough said. "We spent a hell of a lot of money on the stimulus package, did that go towards infrastructure? Any of it?”
“Not enough,” said Rendell.