Congress Adds Insult to Injury … and Death.

Yesterday an Amtrak train derailed near Philadelphia and it’s a real mess. Six dead and hundreds injured. It’s way too soon to know exactly what happened, but there is pretty valid speculation. It seems clear that the train went into a curve much faster than the safe speed. The result was inevitable.
Once investigators know for sure what happened, the next and most important question is why? There are any number of possibilities and there is no point in speculating at this time.
But there is one inescapable truth: there is technology available and in use today that would have prevented this accident. The Positive Train Control system, which has been mandated by Congress, is the most sophisticated system, but there are others that work well and are available now. Several commuter railroads are using automatic speed controls which work with existing signal systems already installed in their locomotive cabs.
For years … FOR YEARS! … Amtrak has been going to Congress and asking for money to pay for, among other things, improvements to the Northeast Corridor infrastructure as well as badly needed replacement equipment. It’s estimated that deferred maintenance, repairs and improvements to the Northeast Corridor alone total more than $50 billion! In fact, the very curve where this accident occurred is one of several that has been scheduled for straightening for many years. It’s never been done for the lack of money.
And year after year, Congress provides Amtrak with barely enough to continue existing operations. And be aware that Amtrak’s annual subsidy, which has averaged around $1.4 billion annually for many years, is a tiny fraction of one percent of the federal budget.
But here’s the real outrage: today—just one day after the tragic accident in Philadelphia—the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee CUT $262 million from the measly $1.39 billion already approved for Amtrak. The vote was along party lines.
NARP has issued a statement which provides more detail.
Occasionally, people ask me why I continue to put so much time and effort into promoting and perhaps even saving passenger rail. This is why!