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15 minutes – was it worth it?

December 19, 2017

High speed passenger rail lines have been a talking point for years now.  Some of the loudest proponents for them other than the riders themselves have been on the east and west coasts, where high population densities make them feasible.

The problem is that to utilize the speedier mass transit nearly the entire 150-year old rail system would have to be rebuilt, and fully automatic speed controls and other safety equipment installed and made operational.

That’s an inconvenient and expensive fact that was apparently ignored when the railroad in Washington state decided to try using the existing infrastructure without designing and building all new tracks.

Although there’s little doubt that the eventual cause of the Dupont WA bridge derailment will be excessive speed for that area of track, that isn’t the whole story.

Deeper down, this is another case of politics overriding common sense.

It wasn’t as though no one warned of the possible consequences. By now everyone has heard the story of the prophetic statement by the mayor of Lakewood WA, predicting a fatal accident. This was after he had sued to stop the project on environmental grounds. Apparently that only works for the Federal and state governments.

The mayor’s  real complaint was that the track in question had numerous at-grade road crossings, and he feared a vehicle-train collision. He quickly found out that locals had no legal say in the goings-on of the railroads.

That goes right back to the question of redesigning the track. To the mayor’s point, all those at-grade crossings should have been rerouted, probably over the tracks, or closed off completely.

That just wasn’t financially possible for the comparatively small city of Lakewood, population around 60,000.

The mayor did manage to get some of the 181 million dollars spent on the line allocated for  fencing and crossing guards, but it was a token effort at best.

There were also supposed to be positive (automatic)  train speed controls installed, but that didn’t happen either.  After all, the Feds had given the railroads until at least 2018 to do that after the 2015 Philadelphia train wreck, so why spend the money now?

Besides, if the train had to slow down for all those at-grade crossings and curves, it wouldn’t be high-speed anymore, would it?

Now more than 70 people are injured, at least three and maybe six are dead, the track will have to be rebuilt to use it again at all, and some people’s vehicles are totaled.

All for 15 minutes.

From → op-ed

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