May 14, 2015


House Republicans Aim to Cut Amtrak Funding the Day After Philadelphia Derailment. The House Appropriations committee already had plans to mark up a bill on Wednesday that would, among other things, cut funding to Amtrak from $1.4 billion to $1.14 billion. (Britain, for the record, spends $8 billion annually on its rail network.). . . .President Richard Nixon created Amtrak in 1970 to boost passenger rail service, but he made it a for-profit corporation. That’s the cause of many its political troubles today. Amtrak has never been able to turn a profit, and Republicans—who favor a fully privatized rail system—are loath to spend taxpayer dollars on a money-losing operations. They have repeatedly threatened to slash federal funding for Amtrak, which has struggled to make do with what Congress gives it. In an annual report to Congress from February, Amtrak President Joseph Boardman described “critical infrastructure stressed to the breaking-point” that result in “frequent service meltdowns . . . And yet, rail safety has improved in the last decade. The Huffington Post notes that accidents in 2014 were down 42 percent since 2006. Meanwhile, Amtrak ridership on the Northeast corridor from Boston to Washington, D.C., hit an all-time high in 2014. New Republic

Lack of Oversight of Charter Schools Designed as a Plus; $3.3+ Billion Spent (Part 2). “The waste of taxpayer money—none of us can feel good about,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health & Human Services and Education just last month. Yet, he is calling for a 48% increase in the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) quarter-billion-dollar-a-year ($253.2 million) program designed to create, expand, and replicate charter schools—an initiative repeatedly criticized by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for suspected waste and inadequate financial controls. PR Watch

FL: 9 Investigates toll collection company problems. SunRail rider Danny Delay said he has experienced a problem with the magnetic strip on the back of his SunRail card. . . Months after 9 Investigates discovered nearly 600 logged complaints about the ticket machines and promises by Xerox to get the system fixed by early 2015, state officials said the company has yet to deliver on the promise. . . .The contract is valued at $600 million. . . .The problems with Xerox go beyond SunRail and central Florida. The Texas Department of Transportation has problems with its toll collections run by Xerox. Texas officials reported 3.5 million toll transactions that were not processed on time and fined Xerox nearly $180,000. . . . . When Asa asked Turnpike Enterprise representatives whether they took into account the problems SunRail has experienced and if they were aware of toll collection problems in other parts of the country: the response was short. “The department looks at company history,” they said.

VA: Women launch website targeting Express Lane fines. Two Northern Virginia women profiled on WTOP have come together to launch a new website to protest the fines and penalties on the Express Lanes. In some cases, the fines can be thousands of dollars. . . . “Basically what they did is they took the HOV law and copied it over to the HOT (high occupancy toll) Lanes statute. But when you commit an HOV violation, a trooper pulls you over and writes you a ticket. You know you’ve committed a violation and if you do it again, the fines go up. You don’t know that on the HOT Lanes,” says Cooley. She points out that since there are neither red light indicators, nor toll booths, there is no notice given on the roadway about a violation compared to the HOV system. . . . Transurban now caps the judgement it seeks in court for first-time offenders to $2,200 plus court costs, and offers to waive fees if the person resolves the problem and works with Transurban from the outset. But Cooley and Comras believe $2,200 plus court costs is still too much. They think there are some common sense solutions. WTOP

TX: SH 130 Toll Road, Long Dormant, Seeing Strong Boost in Traffic, Toll Revenue. The State Highway 130 toll road between Interstate 10 east of San Antonio and Georgetown north of Austin, once considered the poster child for Texas’ failed ‘public private’ toll road partnerships, is turning around its performance. . . . . The growing success of the SH 130 project is expected to pump new life into the idea of merging TxDOT and other state agencies with private developers which can build toll roads quickly, as opposed to waiting for state funding to come on line for construction of badly needed highways. 1200 WOAI