How Much Are the Lives of Train Passengers Worth?

How Much Are the Lives of Train Passengers Worth?

Part of the political "litmus test" in recent years has been to repeat on a regular basis that America is "exceptional." Well, if in fact our country is exceptional, why are our roads, bridges and rail infrastructure in such bad shape, as the recent Amtrak derailment in North Philadelphia so sadly demonstrated?

We've had a jobs/construction bill before the Congress for I don't know how long, and it has gone nowhere — while Speaker of the House John Boehner continues to ask "Where are the jobs?" And, to add insult to injury, the day after the Amtrak derailment that killed eight and injured more than 200 passengers, the House Appropriations Committee voted to cut Amtrak's $1.4 billion budget by one-fifth!

For a country that has for so long led the rest of the world in innovation, we have fallen badly behind other countries with far less resources than ours.  According to industry experts, the United States today has among the worst safety records despite having some of the least-extensive passenger rail networks in the developed world. Fatality rates are almost twice as high as in the European Union and countries like South Korea — and roughly triple the rate in Australia.

Analysts say Europe and Asia's impressive safety record is the result of steady government spending of billions of dollars on development and maintenance of railroad infrastructure, including sophisticated electronic monitoring and automated braking systems developed over the past 20 years.

As a percentage of gross domestic product, America's investment in rail networks is just a quarter of that in Britain and one-sixth that in France and Australia, while Japan spends nearly three times as much per person as the U.S. does. And I can tell you from personal experience, the train systems in Japan are far superior to ours. Even India, Russia and Turkey have consistently invested far greater shares of their G.D.P on rail.

It wasn't too many years ago that Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower saw the need for a nationwide system of roadways that would both open up and bind the nation together. It was a big idea and resulted in one of the nation's largest expansions of industry and migration that enriched the country as a whole.  

 We need to get beyond the small minds of our current congressional leaders and spend the money necessary to upgrade our country's infrastructure — and assure our people of a safe return after a day's work.

Beau Weisman, Editor