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Obama Addresses Amtrak Crash, Calls For More Infrastructure Spending

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Speaking about the Amtrak train crash in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that killed eight passengers, President Barack Obama voiced his support for an increase in federal funding for the nation’s infrastructure programs.

“We are a growing country with a growing economy. We need to invest in the infrastructure that keeps us that way. That’s what great nations do,” the President commented from Camp David on Thursday.

While investigators are still determining the cause of the crash, largely suspected to be due to excessive speeding by the conductor, the President still insisted that infrastructure was a key component and should not be discussed “just when something bad happens,” The Hill wrote.

He also talked about the passengers on board during the accident, with most of them routinely using the train services for an easier commute.

“For a lot of people on that train, it was a routine journey – a commute, a business trip. For the Amtrak employees who were badly hurt, it was their office, place of doing business. And that somehow makes it all the more tragic,” he said.

“I offer my prayers for those who grieve, a speedy recovery for the many who were injured as they work to recover," he added. "And we will cooperate, obviously, at every level of government to make sure that we get answers in terms of precisely what happened."

In Congress, Democrats have slammed Republicans for slashing the Amtrak budget by 15 percent from last year. On the day following the crash, the House Appropriations Committee voted 30-21 along party lines to slash Amtrak Funding by $252 million. The cut in funding is part of the House GOP Budget. However, the cut only applies to Amtrak's capital spending and not to funding levels for safety and operations. Republicans have maintained that a safety system, labeled Positive Train Control (PTC), had not been implemented by the conductor. 

A spokesperson for Amtrak later confirmed that the PTC was not activated due to technical issues stemming from prior friction with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) concerning bandwidth for radios.

Speaking to reporters on May 14, Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio referred to the previous facts released about the case and criticized Democrats for using funding to blame Republicans for the accident.

“Listen: you know they (Democrats) started this yesterday. It’s all about funding, it’s all about funding. Obviously, it’s not about funding,” the Speaker said.

“The train was going twice the speed limit," Boehner added. "Adequate funds were there – no money was cut from rail safety, and the House passed a bill earlier this spring to reauthorize Amtrak and authorize a lot of these programs. It’s hard for me to imagine that people take the bait on some of the nonsense that gets spewed around here."

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Sources: The Hill, USA Today, CNN

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