A sad day in Philadelphia: a train derailment on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor yesterday evening has now claimed the lives of seven and injured more than 200. The train was traveling from Washington to New York when it went off the rails near a bend in a Philadelphia rail yard where multiple tracks merge.
Investigators are looking at the train’s speed as a potential factor in the derailment, which is suspect because of the severity of damage to the train cars, although officials weren’t willing to speculate for obvious reasons. Update: the NYT is now reporting that the train was going 100 mph, twice the posted speed limit for that section of track.
The black box from the train is with Amtrak officials in Delaware, which will provide more insight on the trains speed, brake and throttle data, as well as video from a camera mounted on the train’s image. Also aiding the investigation, the train engineer survived with injuries to “some extent” and has already spoken to police about the incident. The situation is still fluid so the news will likely change throughout the day.
A key thing to note is that trains are one of the safest forms of transportation per miles traveled and incidents like this are rare. This morning I saw a network television reporter lead off a segment by saying “train accidents like these may happen more than you think.” While incidents like the one in Philadelphia should be reminders for agencies to assess their safety procedures and emergency response and for transit riders to know what to do in an emergency, resist the availability heuristic bias and look to the statistics when it comes to assessing your safety on trains!
Likely to be adjudicated by many to be “too soon,” this article brings Amtrak’s many troubles prior to last night’s accident front and center. The issue: decreased funding with increasing ridership. The publicly-funded agency has a $4.3 billion backlog of repairs on a century-old network of rails, resulting in frequent breakdowns and delays.
No matter what side of the aisle you’re on, these two charts highlight Amtrak’s problem in one quick glance:
Another article about the decline of passenger rail in America that focused on Amtrak specifically, was posted on The Atlantic last night. It included an interview with Joseph Goodman, the CEO of Amtrak, and discussed the many troubles the agency faces. Likely because of current events, it has since been removed.
Washington and Minnesota take the honors for the most bike friendly states in the U.S. for the second year in a row. Alabama came in last. The rankings were developed by the League of American Bicyclists and are based on criteria that factor each state’s “new policies, advocacy, legal protections and infrastructure.” Each state was given a report card that highlights what the states do well and also makes suggestions to improve their score. So how’d California fare this year? Click the article to find out.
CityLab’s Eric Jaffe breaks down a new report that debunks the misconception that Americans pay for roads solely through the gas tax , something that hasn’t been true for nearly fifty years. Excerpt:
Landing on the moon was still a wild dream the last time gas taxes and other car-related fees paid nearly the full cost of building and maintaining roads. By the 1970s, road taxes still accounted for about 70 percent of road costs, according to Dutzik, Weissman, and Baxandall, but that link weakened in the ’80s and ’90s. Any vestige of a strong user fee died in the 2000s on account of peak driving rates, better fuel efficiency, soaring construction costs, and a gas tax held flat in the face of inflation.
The funding scenario for highway infrastructure is only getting worse as the Highway Trust Fund, which also uses general funds from drivers and non-drivers alike, teeters on bankruptcy. Meanwhile efforts to raise the gas tax are consistently rebuffed. Beyond that, Jaffe says, no one is owning up to the fact that the current funding system is busted beyond repair.
Jaffe uses an example of other hidden tax exemptions and subsidies — such as fuel sales tax exemptions in 37 states — that benefit drivers but do little to support the infrastructure they drive on.
The conclusion isn’t that drivers are “ruining everything” but that as America becomes increasingly more multimodal, funding should reflect this reality and treat transit as a system, not a silo of modes. Oh, and that we should implement the nationwide per mile fee he’s written about (which sounds about as easy as raising the gas tax).
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Categories: Transportation Headlines