Networks Continue to Shamelessly Push Need for More Infrastructure Funding After Amtrak Crash

Despite now knowing that the Amtrak train that derailed outside of Philadelphia on Tuesday night was going more than double the speed limit, the “big three” networks of ABC, CBS, and NBC continued pushing the need for more infrastructure funding and an increase in Amtrak’s budget on their Wednesday evening newscasts. 

On the CBS Evening News, anchor Scott Pelley parroted the point that “[s]ome of Amtrak's equipment has been charitably described as ‘antique,’” before going on fret that “a House panel today cut Amtrak’s budget even more.”

Congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes then followed with a full report promoting how “[t]he 250 million people who ride these rails each year pass through tunnels and over bridges that are more than 100 years old and look it.”

Continuing to build the case for more money, Cordes cited the estimated funding needed to operate the Northeast Corridor compared to Congress’s funding for all of Amtrak: “Amtrak estimates that maintaining and upgrading the Northeast Corridor would cost $2.6 billion per year, but Congress provided just $1.4 billion this year for all of Amtrak's operations, from coast to coast.”

Seeing as how “funding will drop by nearly 20 percent” for the upcoming fiscal year, Cordes touted “an attempt by House Democrats today to boost” Amtrak’s budget. Without giving a party label, Cordes brought up ultra-liberal New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as leading “a bipartisan group of mayors” who were “begging lawmakers to invest more in infrastructure.”

Reporting from a helicopter over the crash scene, NBC Nightly News interim anchor Lester Holt remarked that “there is a political element to all of this” as “[h]ours after the tragedy here in Philadelphia, the fight over funding for Amtrak flared up.”

Holt then cued up NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent Kelly O’Donnell who declared that “[t]he shock and tragedy of what happened in Philadelphia made a long-standing battle over Amtrak funding more raw and emotional” as the House Appropriations Committee debated its funding on Wednesday.

For the remainder of her report, O’Donnell gave her spin on how Democrats and Republicans each see the situation:

Democrats wanted to see a big increase in funding and in fact, they look at the accident and say it's an example of the need to improve our infrastructure. Republicans, who always argue that Amtrak needs to turn a profit and not rely so much on taxpayers, would not budge. So, Democrats had asked for $2.5 billion, Republicans actually approved a cut to $1.1 billion. This is really about a battle of differing priorities. Republicans say they want to hold the line on domestic spending and Democrats, who have more constituents who use Amtrak, say riders need more resources.

Meanwhile, the subject received only 15 seconds of airtime on ABC’s World News Tonight, but was the only network newscast to mention the fact that train engine in question was only a year old and that Republicans are willing to reconsider the funding levels for Amtrak once the full report on what happened  is released.

On the subject of Amtrak’s funding, anchor David Muir read the following news brief: 

And one more note, just hours after the derailment, a political headline in Washington tonight. A battle over funding for Amtrak. House Republicans voting to cut Amtrak's budget by $251 million, citing spending limits, asking to see the crash report before they reconsider. 

The relevant portions of the transcript from the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley on May 13 can be found below.

CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley
May 13, 2015
6:43 p.m. Eastern

SCOTT PELLEY: Some of Amtrak's equipment has been charitably described as “antique,” but despite that, a House panel today cut Amtrak's budget even more. Nancy Cordes is on Capitol Hill. 

NANCY CORDES: The 250 million people who ride these rails each year pass through tunnels and over bridges that are more than 100 years old and look it. Amtrak's signal system was installed prior to World War II, and electrical wires date back to the 1930s. According to a report by rail officials, “on some occasions, trains get tangled in the lowered wires and tear them down.” David Hughes is a former Amtrak C.E.O. 

FORMER AMTRAK CEO DAVID HUGHES: What Amtrak has is among the poorest that I've ever seen given the level of use they get. The accumulated deferred maintenance and lack of attention really makes it almost a third-world operation. 

CORDES: Amtrak estimates that maintaining and upgrading the Northeast Corridor would cost $2.6 billion per year, but Congress provided just $1.4 billion this year for all of Amtrak's operations, from coast to coast. Next year, funding will drop by nearly 20 percent, despite an attempt by House Democrats today to boost it. 

(....)

CORDES: That didn't stop a bipartisan group of mayors, including New York's Bill de Blasio, from begging lawmakers to invest more in infrastructure. [TO DE BLASIO] It doesn't appear that increased funding for rail is coming any time soon, so what’s the alternative? 

DEMOCRATIC NEW YORK CITY MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: Practically speaking, we're stuck because the infrastructure keeps aging, as we're having this press conference, our city's infrastructures are aging, certainly our rail system, as well. 

CORDES: Amtrak's Northeast Line does turn a profit, but a lot of that money goes to prop up the rest of the Amtrak system. There is a bill working its way through Congress, Scott, that would allow Amtrak the use more of that money to make improvements on its busiest line.

The transcript of the segment from May 13's NBC Nightly News can be found below.

NBC Nightly News
May 13, 2015
7:11 p.m. Eastern

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION: 

LESTER HOLT: In the meantime, there is a political element to all of this. Hours after the tragedy here in Philadelphia, the fight over funding for Amtrak flared up. We've got more on that from NBC's Kelly O'Donnell. 

KELLY O’DONNELL: Good evening, Lester. The shock and tragedy of what happened in Philadelphia made a long-standing battle over Amtrak funding more raw and emotional. Democrats wanted to see a big increase in funding and in fact, they look at the accident and say it's an example of the need to improve our infrastructure. Republicans, who always argue that Amtrak needs to turn a profit and not rely so much on taxpayers, would not budge. So, Democrats had asked for $2.5 billion, Republicans actually approved a cut to $1.1 billion. This is really about a battle of differing priorities. Republicans say they want to hold the line on domestic spending and Democrats, who have more constituents who use Amtrak, say riders need more resources. Lester? 

HOLT: Alright. Kelly O’Donnell tonight. Thanks very much. 

Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck is the Managing Editor of NewsBusters for the Media Research Center