One must wonder how many tax dollars were spent preparing the “preliminary report” from the National Transportation Safety Board on the recent Amtrak train accident. That report was released on June 2nd, three weeks after the tragedy. There nothing in it that hasn’t already been covered by the news media.
Yes, we know what the weather was like that evening (clear, breezy and warm). We know the train was traveling twice as fast as it should have been. We know the engineer applied the brake and that the entire train derailed, resulting in eight deaths and 200 injuries. We know that the breakage on the locomotive’s windshield was not the result of a gunshot. But where is the focus on the institutional neglect?
The report does give a monetary figure on property damage, now estimated at over $9.2 million. What the report does not address is the willful failure of lawmakers to fully fund the railroad, enabling Amtrak to have safety technology in place. That technology, “Positive Train Control,” has been available for several years. It is, in fact, installed along the tracks at Frankford Junction, where the Amtrak derailment took place – but it was not operational along the northbound tracks.
The reason the NTSB does not address this obvious issue is because it knows the problem resulted from the willful, criminal neglect from a GOP-controlled legislature.
As a result of slashed budgets in order to provide yet more tax breaks for billionaires and bloated corporate “people,” Amtrak must contend with a $21 billion backlog of repairs and maintenance on bridges and tunnels that are as much as 100 years old. Those aren’t the only parts of Amtrak’s infrastructure that are wearing out. Many of the passenger coaches that left the tracks during the Amtrak derailment were built in the 1970s, long before most 21st Century safety features had even been thought of. It gets worse: a major reason that Amtrak has not been able to replace those aging coaches is because the railroad is still contending with coaches built during the steam era.
You read that right: Amtrak is still using passenger coaches dating from the 1940s. Such equipment belongs in a rail museum, not on public railroads.
There is yet another aspect of Congress’ warped priorities. One reason that the PTC technology installed at Frankford Junction was not operational is because the Federal Communications Commission has been busy auctioning off radio bandwidth to Big Telecom – and has been dragging its heels when it comes to providing Amtrak with the channels that would allow PTC to function (keep in mind that those waves once belonged to We, the People).
Meanwhile, Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman has testified before Congress, accepting full responsibility for the Amtrak train derailment before a special committee. That’s better than lawmakers can do. At the moment, they’re busy pointing fingers at each other instead of coming up with solutions that would avert these kinds of tragedies in the future. By statute, railroads are required to have PTC systems up and running by the end of this year. However, if Representative Roy Blount gets his way, it won’t happen for another five years; the Missouri Republican has introduced legislation that would allow railroads that much more time to comply.
And in the meantime, we can expect more tragedies like the Amtrak train accident of May 12th.