WASHINGTON — Legislation that would cut Amtrak’s budget by $242 million was working its way through the House, though there’s new funding for video cameras inside locomotive cabs to record train engineers to help investigators get to the bottom of crashes such as last month’s deadly derailment in Philadelphia.
Amtrak announced last month it is going to go ahead and install the cameras after years of delays. The measure advancing Tuesday contains $9 million approved last week to fund the inward-facing camera initiative in the budget year starting in October.
Amtrak is among many domestic programs whose budgets are cut or frozen by the GOP measures as automatic spending curbs known as sequestration are again hitting federal agencies after two years of relief.
House Republicans also unveiled crunching cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency Tuesday morning even as a Senate panel gave initial approval to a huge measure awarding the Pentagon with a 7 percent increase.
The Amtrak funding measure is part of a huge, $55 billion spending measure funding transportation, housing for the poor, and community development programs. It’s the fifth of 12 spending measures to come to the House floor and like its predecessors, the bill faces a veto threat from President Barack Obama.
Obama is demanding that domestic programs get the same level of relief from sequestration that Republicans have awarded the Pentagon.
The $576 billion Senate Pentagon funding measure generally matches Obama’s request but relies on accounting gimmicks to do so. Republicans are padding war accounts to get around sequestration, which would freeze core defense spending at current levels, even as troop pay goes up and cost overruns plague new weapons systems like the next-generation F-35 fighter plane.
Amtrak currently receives $1.3 billion from the government, most of which goes toward capital improvements and debt service. The railroad has long come under attack for expensive subsidies of its money-losing long-distance route and losses from its food and beverage services, but its operating subsidies are forecast to dip below $300 million this year.
New data provided to Congress shows that Amtrak’s long-distances routes are losing more money, however, while the busy, profit-making Northeast corridor route is making more. Routes such as the Sunset Limited, which runs from New Orleans to Los Angeles at a subsidy of more than $400 a ticket, account for losses of more than $600 million, while the Northeast corridor is expected to contribute a $357 million profit this year.
Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, has offered amendments to eliminate the Sunset Limited and 11 routes whose operating costs amount to more than double the money from fares and dining car receipts.
The GOP-drafted measure cuts $242 million from capital accounts but fully funds the $289 million request for operating losses.