Paul Ryan Went On Fox News To Defend Amtrak Safety Funding. It Didn’t Go Well.

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

At least seven people died and 200 were injured in Tuesday’s Amtrak train crash in Philadelphia — even though technology exists that could have prevented the tragedy. A day after his Republican colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee voted along party lines to cut about one-fifth of Amtrak’s budget, House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) incorrectly claimed that Congress had already funded implementing the safety system it mandated in 2008.

Positive Train Control (PTC) would allow railroads to use GPS to stop or slow trains in cases of driver emergencies, switches left in the wrong position, hijacking, natural disasters, or other human error. Seven years ago, Congress enacted the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which required the nation’s busiest railroad operators to have these technologies fully in place by December 2015. Though Amtrak’s president has called PTC “the most important rail safety advancement of our time,” the chronically cash-strapped Amtrak has struggled to put in place its Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System (ACSES) PTC technology system on the timetable it planned and the section of track where Tuesday’s accident occurred lacks it. The train was reportedly traveling at more than 100 miles per hour in a 50 MPH zone. Robert Sumwalt, the National Transportation Safety Board official leading the investigation into Tuesday’s crash, made clear on Wednesday, “Based on what we know right now, we feel that had such a system been installed on this section of track, this accident would not have occurred.”

Paul Ryan, who has made budget cuts a top priority, warned in a Fox News interview on Thursday that Congress cannot “rush to judgment and try doubling the size of government programs” in response to what he believes was “human error.”

Ryan noted that Congress had already “authorized and mandated the sort of speed control systems to be put in place,” though he noted “it wasn’t put in place here at this time.” Asked by Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade whether Congress had actually funded those systems, Ryan claimed that they had.

“Yes!” Ryan responded, “Yeah, we already passed an Amtrak funding, an authorization bill earlier this year. And the appropriations process is working its way through right now.”

Ryan did not note that this appropriation would be well below Amtrak’s request which had included millions for PTC — and below even the past several years’ funding levels. And if Congress had provided the necessary funds to install PTC across the country, there would be no need for a Senate bill filed just weeks ago to delay the implementation deadline from December 2015 to 2020.

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This has been reposted from Think Progress.

Josh Israel is a senior investigative reporter for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Previously, he was a reporter and oversaw money-in-politics reporting at the Center for Public Integrity, was chief researcher for Nick Kotz’s acclaimed 2005 book Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Laws that Changed America, and was president of the Virginia Partisans Gay & Lesbian Democratic Club. A New England-native, Josh received a B.A. in politics from Brandeis University and graduated from the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia, in 2004. He has appeared on CNBC, Bloomberg, Fox News, Current TV, and many radio shows across the country.

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