When it comes to transportation safety, you get what you pay for.
Though the cause of that crash is still under investigation, The Times’ Nicola Clark noted that the US has one of the worst rail safety records in the developed world. The report linked that fact to the lack of government spending.
“Fatality rates are almost twice as high as in the European Union and countries like South Korea, and roughly triple the rate in Australia,” Clark wrote of the US. “Analysts say the impressive safety record in Europe and Asia 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.”
US lawmakers were heavily criticised for voting to cut Amtrak’s funding in the immediate aftermath of last Tuesday’s crash, which occurred on the route between Philadelphia and New York City. Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) was particularly vocal on the matter.
“Here, less than 12 hours after seven people died, these SOBs, and that’s all I can call them, these SOBs didn’t even have the decency to table the vote,” he said on MSNBC. “What are these guys smoking?”
For his part, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) criticised a reporter who asked a question linking his chamber’s transportation funding vote to the crash. Boehner noted that the train was reportedly going far beyond its speed limit at the time of the crash — a factor that is seemingly unrelated to funding levels.
“Are you really going to ask such a stupid question?” Boehner said at a news conference last Thursday. “Obviously it’s not about funding. The train was going twice the speed limit.”
However, The Times report looked at the funding other countries gave their rail networks and noted that in “terms of safety, the return on that investment has been clear.” This includes foreign networks where trains travel at far higher speeds than in the US.
“Japan’s famous Shinkansen ‘bullet train’ network has never experienced a fatal crash or derailment in 51 years of operation, while in France the same can be said of its gleaming fleet of high-speed TGVs, which have zipped across the French countryside for close to three decades,” Clark wrote. “Even in Spain and China, the sites of two crashes in recent years where dozens were killed, overall rail accident rates per number of passengers remain among the lowest in the world.”
According to the report, the US invests less than 0.1% of its GDP on rail systems — a fraction of what a number of other developed countries pay. As a result, US rail networks do not have the same technology installed to improve the safety of their lines.
“Those improvements can automatically slow a train if a computer on board detects that it has exceeded the maximum speed for a given section of track,” added.
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