In an embarrassing and tragic coincidence, Congress debated cutting $260 million from Amtrak's budget as emergency crews searched through the rubble of a train accident that killed six passengers the night before.
Investigators say the Amtrak train that crashed was traveling at 100 MPH, twice the speed limit for that train on that particular route. Sadly, rather than increase funding to implement safety measures on public transportation, Congress has acted to push back deadlines that could have prevented the Amtrak crash.
"[L]awmakers from both parties have offered bills to add years to a congressionally imposed Dec. 31 deadline for railroads to install a collision-prevention technology known as Positive Train Control, which both the railroads and DOT say the industry cannot meet."
Positive Train Control can actively enforce line speed and implement temporary speed restrictions. Indeed, the public dispute over funding infrastructure and transportation could not have occurred at a more unfortunate or appropriate time. America's bridges, highways, and public transportation have suffered from insufficient funding for decades, and the results of the neglect have recently turned ugly.
"'America is in a crisis when it comes to infrastructure,' said former Obama Administration Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who is also a former Republican congressman from Illinois."
What alternatives might exist? Especially for a country such as ours that loves public-private partnerships. In England, for example, Richard Branson's Virgin operates train lines throughout the country. And while safety concerns have been raised over private business' attention to the bottom line, it seems a rather weak argument in the wake of this Amtrak crash.