Speaker of the House John Boehner, who increasingly looks like he's made of smoky phlegm coughed up by Mad Men characters, was asked yesterday if lack of federal funding for rail safety contributed to the deadly derailment of the Amtrak train in Philadelphia on Tuesday. With a look of the kind of contempt one gives a cat who just figured out how to get the fish out of the aquarium, he said, "Are you really going to ask such a stupid question?"
Of course, it's not a stupid question. It is, in fact, the only question. Because, see, the last time Amtrak was funded through a reauthorization of funds by Congress was in 2008. That bill expired in 2013, and Congress hasn't been able to do dick since then. The previous reauthorization of funding expired in 2002. It took Congress six years to pass something that wasn't bare bones funding by tacked-on amendment to another bill. And that's when Congress was a functioning body, approving worthless wars and shit.
Also in 2008, Congress said that all railroads needed to install technology that would detect speeding, out-of-control trains and slow them down. It is supposed to be completed by the end of this year. Of course, Congress hasn't provided near enough funding. If that system had been running, the wreck would have been prevented.
Who is responsible for spending bills getting out of Congress in the last couple of years? Right: John Boehner and Republicans. So was it really a stupid question?
Actually, the level of fuckery of Amtrak goes further, and it tells you everything you need to know about why nothing will ever be done to save the infrastructure of this country (seriously, the Rude Pundit drives on major highways in the Northeast that are worse than some dirt roads). Listen: "because lawmakers failed to provide the railroads access to the wireless frequencies required to make [Positive Train Control] work, Amtrak was forced to negotiate for airwaves owned by private companies that are often used in mobile broadband."
You might think, "Wait, what the fuck?" Yeah, as David Sirota reports, "[W]hen Congress in 2008 mandated that rail companies like Amtrak install PTC on their tracks, lawmakers did not require the FCC to set aside any of those airwaves for this exclusive function."
You might still be thinking, "Okay, this sounds like something bad, but I really don't fucking understand and I'm about to tune you out." Okay, okay, fuck, hold on.
See, Congress said, "Yeah, Amtrak, we cut the fuck out of your budget, but you go with your hat in your hand to broadband companies and buy some bandwidth." Of course, the PTC system itself could have operated...
You might think, "It's Friday. Can you just shut up about this hard stuff and say something mean about Republicans?"
Fine. Republican spoogebuckets were busy this week, post-crash, cutting funding for Amtrak because fuck those yankees and their Northern Corridor public transportation. A House committee voted to cut 15% from Amtrak's budget. When Democrats brought up the derailment during the debate, Idaho Republican Mike Simpson said, "You have no idea, no idea, what caused this accident. Don’t use this tragedy in that way. It was beneath you." Because Republicans would never use a tragedy to advance their agendas, oh, no, they are as pure as yellow snow.
Republicans will say, "We're not cutting the budget on safety for passengers." Which is technically true, but if the budget is shit to begin with, then it's pretty hard to make the case that you are standing up for the railroads. If you are responsible for making sure that safety systems are funded to help save lives and you don't fund them properly, then you bear blame for the deaths that occur due to your failure. Of course Boehner wants to shut up questions about it. He has blood on his nicotine-dyed hands.
Let's give the last quote to Florida Republican John Mica: "There's no question the United States has a third-world rail system. It's a monopoly run in a Soviet-style operation. Amtrak."
Unpack that statement: Amtrak is run by the federal government. If it's a third-world level system, who the fuck made it that way?