Booker, Menendez Call for Increased Transportation Funding

By David Cruz

The senators took great pains to try not to make a connection between mass transit funding and this week’s deadly Amtrak derailment that killed eight and left more than 200 injured. But it was hard to talk about one without referring to the other today, and the Democrats were inclined to take the opportunity to make their points.

“We do know that Positive Train Control — fully implemented — could have made a difference in averting this tragedy and saving lives. Now the question is: would more funding have made a difference? And Amtrak officials make it clear that they could have moved much faster in the implementation if they were working with the federal government as partners in making those funds available,” said Sen. Cory Booker.

Positive Train Control is the safety system that could stop a train that was accelerating unsafely — as this week’s Amtrak train appeared to be — thereby avoiding derailments and collisions. The system is supposed to be in place across the country by the end of the year, but the Republican-controlled House has been slow to move on Amtrak funding. Sen. Bob Menendez said his own son was scheduled to be on the next train out of D.C. Sunday.

“He was lucky. There were many others who were not lucky on that day and luck should not be our national transportation policy. And luck should not decide whether you live or die,” Menendez said.

This was the second time in as many days that Democrats held press conferences to call for increased funding for mass transit. Yet, with Republicans controlling the House in Washington and a Republican governor in New Jersey wielding a veto pen that has never been overridden, Democrats are left to shake their fists and point their fingers.

What’s a commuter to do when he sees leaders that seem powerless to get this finding? “Well, first of all, elections have consequences, and we need to think about that. We need to think about what our public policy priorities are,” Menendez said.

“As Sen. Menendez said, elections have consequences. We have people from our own New Jersey delegation down in Congress who are not supporting robust investment in infrastructure, which produces a return on taxpayer dollars invested significantly more than that investment,” Booker said.

Translation? Commuters will likely be paying more for NJ Transit trains and buses, just a few months after the latest Port Authority PATH fare increases, and should expect more delays from Amtrak signal problems. It’s what can happen when paying for upgrades to an early 20th century mass transit infrastructure is dependent on the realities of early 21st century politics.