Another Amtrak Disaster Is Likely Unless We Fix Our Broken-Down Rail System

News & Politics

There used to be a time in this country when our elected representatives believed in the US and its government.

From Lincoln creating the land-grant universities, to FDR creating the Tennessee Valley Authority, to Eisenhower building the Interstate Highway System, previous leaders shared a common vision of the US that saw government and public works as a positive force in our society.

But then Reagan came along and the message was no longer "believe in the US and its government," it was "government is the problem, not the solution."

While countries like China, Japan and Germany are surging ahead with high-speed trains that are shattering records left and right, we're stuck here in the US with outdated technology and crumbling tracks.

The Acela train, which was supposed to be our country's answer to high-speed rail, travels at an average speed of just 79 miles per hour between Boston and Washington.

In comparison, high-speed trains travelling between Madrid and Barcelona travel at an average of around 150 miles per hour.

The Japanese, meanwhile, have just developed a passenger train that can travel at a whopping 374 miles per hour.

The Acela, of course, can travel as fast as 150 mph, but it's severely limited by the poor track quality along Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, which, according some estimates, will need something to the tune of $4.3 billion in repairs by 2019.

Our railroads used to be the envy of the world, but now they're a joke - a joke that in some cases, leads to tragedy.

Although Tuesday night's deadly Amtrak crash in Philadelphia looks like it was the result of human error, our aging and decrepit rail system only makes such disasters more likely.

In fact, according to the Federal Railroad Administration, the single biggest cause of train accidents between January 2000 and February 2015 was track failure.

The solution here is simple.

We need to what we did for hundreds of years before Reaganism infected our national discourse: seriously invest in our rail infrastructure.

Right now, we lag way behind countries like China, Switzerland and Austria.

That needs to change, and we should start by doubling our efforts to boost Amtrak and its Northeast Corridor, which is so important to our economy that if it stopped altogether, the country would lose almost $100 million every single day.

The problem, though, is that Republicans don't give a rat's patooey about improving our rail system - at least so long as it's not owned by some billionaire.

Right now, they're actually trying cut Amtrak funding by around 20 percent, from $1.4 billion to $1.13 billion, and some have actually called for the privatization of the Northeast Corridor.

The way they see it, since Amtrak isn't "making a profit," it's a waste of money.

This is a perfect example of Reaganism run amok. No transportation system "makes a profit"- our highways certainly don't - because that's not the point.

The point of having a national highway system or national rail system isn't to make money - it's to provide a service to the public and to provide a backbone for the economy to grow and prosper.

Infrastructure is just the soil in which business roots itself, and government spending is the best fertilizer.

That's what Republicans don't get about Amtrak.

Sometimes, throwing money at a problem is the way to fix it.

When your tracks are crumbling, your bridges are falling apart and your trains are dinosaurs from the 1970s, no magical privatization scheme is going to solve the problem.

What's going to get the job done is a dose of good old fashioned government spending - the kind we used to build this country from the founding of the Republic up until the Reagan era.

Government is the solution, not the problem.

Hopefully our lawmakers will come to realize that before another tragic train accident exposes our rail system for the embarrassment that it is.

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