As America struggles with to come to terms with the tragic crash of an AMTRAK train in northern Philadelphia last night, killing six and injuring fifty, the Republican House has decided it’s going to take a stand for our crumbling rail infrastructure- by slashing $100 million from their budget. Smack in the middle of what the Obama Administration has dubbed “Infrastructure Week”, it is another blow that keeps America from fulfilling her potential.
By refusing to take advantage of what modern transportation technology has to offer and holding our nation back by letting waste and inefficiency rule in the name of
“fiscal responsibility” “starve the beast” attacks on government spending, the Republican Party has let our country decay. Railroads are just the first step; the Harvard Business Review reports that:
Goods are delayed at clogged ports. Delayed or cancelled flights cost the U.S. economy an estimated $30-40 billion per year – not to mention ill will of disgruntled passengers. The average American wastes 38 hours a year stuck in traffic. This amounts to 5.5 billion hours in lost U.S. productivity annually, 2.9 gallons of wasted fuel, and a public health cost of pollution of about $15 billion per year, according to Harvard School of Public Health researchers. The average family of four spends as much as 19% of its household budget on transportation. But inequality also kicks in: the poor can’t afford cars, yet are concentrated in places without access to public transportation. To top it all, federal funding for highways, with a portion for mass transit, is about to run out.
Senator Elizabeth Warren and famed economist Joseph Stiglitz have similarly called for dramatic changes to infrastructure, seeing it as a key pillar to uplifting the American middle class and playing a large role in solving the income inequality that plagues our nation. The White House strongly agrees; President Obama’s proposal was to boost AMTRAK funding to $2.45 billion dollars, while the House is gunning to slash it to $1.3 billion.
But in our do-nothing Republican Congress, it’s hard to see even this awful tragedy motivating them to do anything, because sitting on a 19% approval rating, the Republicans have proven that they really don’t care what the nation, their constituents, or what the world thinks of them and their failure to do anything productive for the American people. The last time Congress passed an AMTRAK bill was in 2008– seven years ago– and that was only after a commuter train derailed and killed 25, which prompted Republicans to suddenly fast-track the bill to President Bush.
Seven years later, we can’t even be hopeful of that much.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.