Menendez Addresses Derailment of Amtrak 188 on Senate Floor

Menendez Addresses Derailment of Amtrak 188 on Senate Floor

“We don’t know what caused this accident, but we do know that we need to invest in 21st century systems and equipment”

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) today spoke on the Senate Floor to address last night’s tragic derailment of Amtrak Northeast Regional 188 in Philadelphia.

His remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow:

“M. President, I rise to bring attention to the tragic Amtrak derailment that took at least 6 lives and caused over 140 injuries.

“Our thoughts and our prayers are with the families of those who lost their lives.

“To those of us from New Jersey and those who live along the Northeast Corridor, they are our neighbors, our friends, our relatives. They could be us and hits especially close to home.

“There was a period of time last night when I didn’t know the whereabouts of my son, Rob, who was scheduled to be on Amtrak back to New York. But I later found out he was on the next train and – thankfully – he was safe. I’m grateful for that. Others were not so lucky, but luck should not be America’s transportation policy.

“It’s imperative that the cause of the derailment is fully investigated so we can prevent these tragedies in the future.

“I have already been on the phone with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and continue to closely monitor the situation.

“I also want to recognize the extraordinary work of our first responders. Once again the firefighters, police officers, and emergency responders showed us what bravery really is. They ran into the crash site to save lives and for that we should all be grateful.

“We don’t know what caused this accident, but we do know that we need to invest in 21st century systems and equipment and stop relying on patchwork-upgrades to old rusted 19th century rail lines.

“There are still many questions we don’t know the answer to. Was there human failure? Was this a mechanical failure? Were there infrastructure issues? Or was it a combination of issues? What we do know is that our rail passengers deserve safe and modern infrastructure.

“New Jersey is at the heart of the Northeast Corridor. It has long held a competitive advantage with some of the nation’s most modern highways, an extensive transit network, and some of the most significant freight corridors in the world at the confluence of the some of the largest and busiest rail lines, Interstates, and ports.

“In a densely populated State like New Jersey, the ability to move people and goods safely and efficiently is critical to our economy and critical to our quality of life.

“But, unfortunately, in recent years, New Jersey – and the nation as a whole – has fallen behind.

“We have 20 years maximum before the Hudson River Tunnels have to be taken out of service – tunnels that are absolutely essential to moving people and goods in a region that contributes $3.5 trillion – 20 percent, of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product.

“Nationwide, 65 percent of major roads in America are in poor condition, 1 in 4 bridges need significant repair, there’s an $808 billion backlog in highway and bridge investment needs.

“On the transit side, there’s an $86 billion backlog of transit maintenance needs and it will take almost $19 billion a year – through 2030 to bring our transit assets into good repair.

“These are just a handful of the statistics underscoring our nation’s failure to invest in our transportation network, but we have to get beyond looking at numbers on a page. We need to talk about what Congress’s failure to act means to the people we represent – to every commuter, every family, everyone who travels every day, and every construction worker looking for a job.

“Failure to act means construction workers, now facing a 10 percent unemployment rate at a time when our infrastructure is crumbling around us, won’t get the work they need.

“It means a business can’t compete in a globalized economy because their goods don’t get to market in time. It means a working mother stuck on in traffic who can’t get home in time for dinner with her kids. And in the very worst cases, the cases like we saw yesterday on Amtrak, it means loved ones lost in a senseless tragedy.

“In Congress, we too often treat our infrastructure like it’s an academic exercise – like it’s numbers on a page that we adjust to score political points, or balance a budget, or make an argument about which types of transportation are worthy of our support.

“That’s not the real world. In the real world, the choices we make have an impact on people’s lives, their jobs, and their budgets. They have an impact on our nation’s ability to compete. They have an impact on the safety of Americans, and America’s ability to lead in the world.

“We in Congress are failing to recognize the real-world impacts of the choices we make about our transportation infrastructure.

“We have a passenger rail bill that expired in 2013. We have a Highway Trust Fund on the brink of insolvency, with no plans to fix it sustainably. We have a crowded and outdated aviation system that we refuse to adequately fund. We have failed to upgrade with presently available technologies that can reduce the number of failures. We have appropriations bills aiming to cut already low funding levels – of Amtrak in particular – to meet an arbitrary budget cap for the sake of a political point. And yet, M. President, nothing we’re doing is aimed at fixing the problem – and our inaction comes with an extraordinarily high cost.

“I categorically reject the idea that we can’t afford to fix our transportation system. The truth is, we can’t afford not to fix it. The Amtrak disaster last night is a tragic reminder that we have to act.

“We are reminded of the tragic consequences of inaction and the impact of inaction on the lives of workers and families, on their lives and their ability to get to work and do their jobs with confidence that they will be safe.

“As a member of the Finance Committee and Ranking Member of the Transit Subcommittee, I’ve been advocating that we act as soon as possible.

“We can’t keep pretending the problem is going to resolve itself if we just wait long enough. We simply can’t afford to wait and
I hope that everyone in this Chamber – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike – will come together, work together, and make real progress in building a future we can be proud of.

“We can start by putting politics aside and think about the safety of the American people, think about the future, think about America’s competitiveness and find common ground, do whatever it takes to invest in America’s railroads, ports, highways, and bridges and invest in the future.

“Let’s not wait until there’s another tragic headline. Let’s not wait until more lives are lost. With that, M. President, I yield the floor.”