STATE SEN. BOB CASEY (Photo by Abdul R. Sulayman/Tribune Chief Photographer)
by Damon C. Williams
(NNPA)–Using the majestic “Angel” statue depicting the names of railroad workers who sacrificed their lives during WWII as a backdrop, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey restated his support of Amtrak, as funding for the Congress-established railway system is threatened by action from the United States House of Representatives.
Casey believes that the House wants to reduce Amtrak’s funding by one third — some $350 million — while the senator sides with findings from the Senate Appropriations Committee, which established a funding number of $1.45 billion, or roughly $137 million more than Amtrak received last year.
“In Washington, there is an ongoing debate on how we invest in infrastructure, but also how we invest in strategies that will lead to job growth and the preservation of jobs, and Amtrak is a part of that,” Casey said. “We’ve got a number now, proposed by the Senate Appropriations Committee, and the proposed number I support, is $1.45 billion. It’s reasonable, it’s consistent with the dollar amount we’ve provided over the last several years.
“Unfortunately, the House of Representatives has a different view. They believe the impact funding Amtrak receives should be a third less than that, $915 million,” Casey continued, noting Amtrak’s crucial role in the economy, especially along the eastern seaboard and between Pennsylvania and New York to the north and Washington to the south. “I think it would be a mistake to adopt the House number for a couple of reasons: first and foremost are jobs, commerce and the economy.”
For Casey, funding Amtrak will do more than preserve the 2,300 Pennsylvanian jobs attached to it. The funding will also allow Pennsylvania to continue to reap the more than $200 million Amtrak-related businesses pump into the statewide economy.
“More than six million people come through Pennsylvania’s stations a year, and we also know the ridership numbers are way up. And we also know that with more people riding Amtrak, it leads to less congestion on the road,” Casey said. “I know personally the impact that Amtrak has on my own schedule. And if someone from New York or Philadelphia wants to sit down and make a business deal, they know they can get there quickly without having to drive between places like New York and Philadelphia.”
According to data released by Casey’s offices, Amtrak received 1.418 billion in FY 2012 and $1.3 billion in FY 2013.
Casey redoubled his stance by sending letters to the Barbara Mikulski and Richard Shelby, the chair and vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, respectively, and Subcommittee on transportation, Housing and Urban Development Chairwoman Patty Murray and to subcommittee ranking member Susan Collins, in an effort to solidify funding Amtrak at the higher number.
“I write to convey my support for the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development’s funding level of $1.45 billion for Amtrak for Fiscal Year 2014. Amtrak has been breaking ridership records annually and building its customer base. This investment will provide funding to maintain and improve infrastructure to continue these gains. In addition, this funding level would make sure we make the necessary investment to grow our current rail infrastructure to accommodate future growth. Increased passenger rail options provide commuters with relief from rising gas prices and reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” read, in part, Casey’s letter. “I also wish to express my concern with the drastic cuts in the House Appropriations Committee’s funding level of $950 million. This would reduce Amtrak’s budget by nearly a third and endanger service on the Northeast corridor (NEC), which serves over 11 million passengers per year and the Keystone Corridor which serves over 1.4 million passengers a year. Amtrak rail service along the corridor is crucial to the long-term economic competitiveness of the region and provides travelers with a reliable mode of transportation to their final destinations.
“Continued support of passenger rail is essential to furthering our nation’s economic recovery,” Casey’s letter continued. “In Pennsylvania alone, Amtrak employs over 2,600 individuals and spends over $200 million a year on procurement contracts in the state. The House Appropriations bill funding level would endanger these jobs and harm the regional economy.”
Contact Damon C. Williams at (215- 893-5745) or firstname.lastname@example.org.