This Train Wreck Could Have Been Prevented

Investigators have already determined that yesterday’s Amtrak train derailment between Tacoma and Olympia Washington

Was caused by excessive speed (80mph) in a limited speed zone (30mph). The accident killed 3 people and injured almost all of the 78 passengers and 5 crewmembers, and it was completely avoidable.

And the Republican-controlled Congress of 2015 is responsible. They kicked the can down the road until 2018.

As a Conservative and a Republican, I am deeply troubled over this because as one who hates excessive business regulation and who regularly argues against it (ask anyone), I believe that once in awhile a little regulation is necessary and important, particularly when it comes to people’s safety-especially if it’s a no-brainer.

What do I mean? Well, let’s do a little history.

In 2008, an Amtrak train in Chatsworth California, near Los Angeles, blew a stop signal and collided with a truck (check this out!!) killing 26 passengers and sending scores to local hospitals. Shortly after that incident, the Obama Administration introduced regulations that called for Positive Train Control. This regulation called for electronic equipment that interacts with track and signal sensors that overrides train drivers’ signal and speed decisions.

This technology has been fully in place in the U.K. since 2006, following a horrific crash in Ladbroke Grove England in 1999, which killed 31 people. Since that time, only a few people have been killed in train crashes in the U.K. and none because of operator error.

Train wrecks happen everywhere for a variety of reasons. Many accidents occur because of trucks and cars crossing tracks inappropriately. These wrecks are also preventable, but none are as preventable as the technology that overrides operator error – Positive Train Control. It’s available and it works.

So why in the world would Congress delay its implementation? Good question, particularly since they delayed it in 2015 after already being aware of a horrible Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia in May of that same year that killed 8 and sent 185 to hospitals. That train was going double the speed limit of 50 M.P.H. Perhaps Congress wasn’t yet aware of the post-crash analysis, but one wonders if they even cared what the preliminary findings were.

As of the 2nd quarter of 2017, many train systems around America are still not compliant. They are supposed to be in compliance by 2018. Oh, except for those that met certain requirements that allowed them to delay their responsibilities until 2020… geez. By the way, Amtrak is still only 68% ready to go with Positive Train Control. You can look up how all of the rail systems are doing here.

There’s another major reason for train crashes in the U.S. besides crossings and driver error and that’s bad tracks and maintenance. You know – aging, crumbling infrastructure…

Following the Washington wreck, Donald Trump tweeted this:

Okay, so I’m really uncomfortable with instant communication (Tweeting) from the Whitehouse and I hate the 24-7 partisan campaigning by our President. But this time he’s right. It’s time that Congress, led by Republicans, to turn its attention to the rebuilding of America’s roads, bridges and train tracks. It’s vital to a vibrant and growing nation and its economy.

The thing is, regulation and spending are not my favorite thing as a Conservative. But sometimes it’s necessary. And knee-jerk Conservatism is just as bad as reflexive Liberalism. Neither one is good for America.

The Republican leadership needs to work with the President and make this happen. We need updated infrastructure and safety regulations now. How will they fund it? I don’t know-maybe a massive federal bond offering? How about a fuel or train ticket surcharge? Whatever it takes. Our lives depend on it.

Jon Saltzman is the Publisher and Senior Editor of Political Storm

Photo Credit: Seattle Times