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Former CEO: Amtrak 'Almost A Third World Operation'

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Federal investigators remain on the scene of the deadly train derailment in Philadelphia, as the death toll grows to eight.  Amtrak now says full service in the Northeast Corridor will not resume until Monday or Tuesday.

Derek Valcourt with more on the major disruptions to service.

More than 750,000 people a day use Amtrak and other commuter lines that run along the Northeast Corridor.

In fact, Amtrak says, last year alone, it shuttled 11.6 million people along their rail line, which spans eight states and 456 miles from Washington, D.C. up to Boston.

"If it were its own separate railroad, it would be the busiest in the Western Hemisphere," said Jim Mathews, National Association of Railroad Passengers.

Mathews says Amtrak removes an estimated 8 million cars from the highways. He says even a brief shutdown of the Northeast Corridor brings traffic congestion and economic loss to the region.

"All of those kinds of things are really difficult to measure day by day, but certainly you start to see an economic slow down when people can't conduct business," said Mathews.

As travelers in the Mid-Atlantic scramble to make alternative plans to get to New York City and beyond, many observers say this is the time to start talking about the rail system's aging infrastructure.

Some of Amtrak's bridges and tunnels are more than 100 years old. Amtrak's signal systems and electrical wires were installed prior to World War II.

David Hughes is a former Amtrak CEO.

"What Amtrak has is among the poorest 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," said Hughes.

Amtrak estimates that maintaining and upgrading the Northeast Corridor alone would cost $2.6 billion per year. But Congress provided just $1.4 billion this year for all Amtrak operations coast to coast.

Next year, funding will drop by 20 percent--a move many Democrats oppose.

"You can't keep not spend money to take care of things such as transportation because you're putting our people at risk. Eventually, we're going to have more incidents like that," said Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, (D) Maryland.

In all, Amtrak says it needs a total of $52 billion to bring the entire Northeast Corridor rail line up to a state of good repair.

The National Association of Train Passengers insists despite needed repairs to the Amtrak lines, train travel is still one of the safest modes of transportation.

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