Trains, Planes and Automobiles: Amtrak Tragedy Shines a Light on the Need for Increased Infrastructure Spending.

The New York Times reports that Amtrak train number 188 was carrying 243 people when it crashed in Philadelphia on Tuesday evening. At least eight people were killed and dozens more were injured, several of whom are reported to be in critical condition. According to the Times, the train was travelling at 106 miles per hour when it derailed—more than twice the speed limit on that section of the track—suggesting that the tragedy likely could have been prevented by the installation of a safety system called ‘positive train control.’

Positive train control is designed to prevent human error, such as allowing trains to travel at their maximum speed. CNN reports that such safety systems have been tested and implemented since 2007. After a 2008 rail accident that killed 25 people in California, Congress mandated that safety systems be installed on most heavily travelled passenger rail lines by December of 2015.

The crash highlights a dire need for increased infrastructure funding in the US. Far from being isolated to the passenger rail system, many facets of US infrastructure are crumbling. Bringing them up to snuff would run us trillions of dollars. According to a 2013 infrastructure report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), our passenger rail system received a grade of C+; the country’s overall infrastructure grade was a D+, with levees and inland waterways noted as areas for the most concern.

The ASCE estimates that Amtrak would need to invest $10 billion over the next fifteen years to achieve a state of good repair and to increase its passenger capacity to meet demand;  according to Amtrak, more than 86,000 passengers ride their trains every day. Merely maintaining Amtrak’s existing passenger rail service isn’t cheap either. While passenger fares tend to cover the cost of maintenance in the Northeast, the Amtrak rail system relies heavily on Congressional funding and state subsidies.

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