Over the last nine months, I have spent about 275 hours on trains. I usually take the Metro-North, a state-operated railroad service whose trains have been involved in multiple crashes since I moved to the area. Sometimes trains hit cars. Sometimes trains hit each other. Sometimes there are seemingly preventable accidents, like when a train goes 82 miles per hour through a 30 mph turn and catapults towards the Hudson River.
I usually take the Metro-North, but last month I got to take the Northeast Regional, an Amtrak train that is notoriously late and inevitably tries to make up time however possible. That’s probably why an Amtrak train was going 106 mph through a 50 mph curve Tuesday night when it derailed and crashed, killing several passengers and wounding more.
While trains are safer than cars and are crashing less and less often generally, this isn’t true in the New York City area, where crash rates haven’t really declined at all.
At the New Yorker, John Cassidy writes that “the United States has been allowing its public infrastructure to decay” for decades. The government spends half as much on infrastructure as it did in the 1950s-60s. Of course, the government spends less on a lot these days, as public service provision continues to shrivel and programs get cut more and more. Infrastructure – and safety – for people to move around the country should be a priority.
Instead, Congress slowly breaks off chunks of infrastructure one bill at a time. From International Business Times:
Seven years ago, in the face of growing evidence that the American rail system was dangerously vulnerable to derailments and collisions, Congress passed a law requiring that railroad companies add to their tracks new technology designed to limit such accidents. Absent such technology, federal transportation authorities said last year, “everybody on a train is one human error away from an accident.”
In the years that followed, some sections of the rails threading the crowded Northeast Corridor gained the so-called Positive Train Control (PTC) technology. But in late March, a Senate committee approved a bipartisan bill to delay by an additional five years the requirement for the new technology. Among the sections of the system that were then still without the safety gear: the tracks stretching between New York City and Washington.
And then, in the aftermath of Tuesday’s crash, Congress rejected a proposal to increase Amtrak’s funding.
Public infrastructure is supposed to be just that – public. It should serve the public good, and it should move the people safely and at a reasonable cost. It should help the country move. Inhibiting that does us no good.
I still have a few dozen train rides over the next month, so let’s see how I fair. In the meantime, there are some rails that need repair, investment, and technology.