What’s Congress Got Against Passenger Trains?

unknownPeople who are into railroading are still discussing the accident in Hoboken yesterday. Much of the talk is about New Jersey Transit’s asking for and apparently getting official permission to exempt the Hoboken station from installing PTC.
Interestingly, there have been conflicting statements as to whether or not PTC would have prevented the accident. I have heard very emphatic assurances from people who certainly should know that, yes, Positive Train Control would have intervened. Yet others have said PTC would not have stopped that train from careening into the station, however I suppose that latter view could be based on the fact that the railroad had permission to skip any PTC installation at the Hoboken station.
And any number of people have complained justifiably that essentially PTC is yet another unfunded mandate from Congress. That is, Congress passes a law saying by such-and-such a date, the railroads must have a mega-billion dollar Positive Train Control system up and running, but they don’t kick in any money to make it happen. I suppose the Class One railroads—Union Pacific, BNSF and the others—are better able to come up with the money, but it’s got to be a big problem for the commuter railroads.
There’s something about railroads—specifically passenger trains—that turns Congress into a den of cheapskates. Not so with the airlines, however. In June of 1956, a TWA Constellation and a United Airlines DC-7 collided over the Grand Canyon, killing 128 people. Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, was president at the time and he didn’t mess around. Ike directed the FAA to get by-God-busy and create a national air traffic control system so accidents like that wouldn’t happen again. The did and it was paid for by the federal government. Still is, in fact.
Yes, yes … I’m sure the airlines pay a fee or there’s a special tax that goes to help fund the FAA, but when a commuter train crashes into a freight in Chatsworth, California, killing a bunch of people, Congress mandates that all railroads—freight, Amtrak, commuter lines, everybody—install a pricey system to prevent accidents like that, and how to pay for it is your problem. Then they move on to the really important stuff . . . like defunding Planned Parenthood.

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