Last week, an Amtrak train traveling at high speed, derailed along the route from Washington DC to New York. All seven carriages toppled, eight people died and several hundreds were injured.
Authorities are searching for answers on what may have gone wrong and who is responsible for the accident. Could it be faulty tracks, outdated technology or human error? Until investigations are complete we will not have clear answers.
The Iron Horse: Past To Present
Who does not like trains? There is something about them that brings out the kid in us. Remember Thomas the Tank Engine?
But locomotives have not just been a fascination, they are an icon of the industrial age. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, railroads were developed to help factories bring in large amounts of material to manufacture and move the finished products to market.
Soon railroads adapted and began to move not just material but even people because it was faster. They became the backbone of America, transporting crucial supplies, connecting people, and spawning new communities and cultures. The completion of the Trans-continental railroad connected the East and the West like never before.
While it is true that road and air travel has changed the way people travel today, many parts of America may never have developed but for this unique rail system. It is also true that today Amtrak services are most utilized along the heavily populated and often commuted routes along the East Coast of the country. Trains along the rest of its network run invariably empty and infrequently.
Passenger Rail: Public or Private?
Amtrak is a private company that began in 1971. Like the US Postal Service and PBS, Amtrak receives funding from the federal government. However, because of repeated budget cuts by Congress, the organization has not been able to improve the technology and infrastructure. In fact, the state of America's high-speed trans-continental trains is nowhere near the speed or quality of European or Japanese trains.
For lawmakers who live in areas that are not heavily dependent on passenger trains, Amtrak seems to be wasteful and inefficient. But for regular commuters along the North East corridor (especially from Boston to Washington DC via New York), Amtrak is very important. Some debate whether Amtrak should just focus on service in this section and close its other services. However, for those few states and towns that Amtrak serves, the thought of closing the service is unacceptable.
Even as the accident was unfolding in Pennsylvania, Congress was busy in Washington debating the funding for Amtrak for the next year. President Obama had requested for a $2.45 billion funding for Amtrak. However, Congress has cut the funding to $1.1 billion, even lower than the $1.4 billion allotted to the institution last year.
Critical Thinking: Do you think Amtrak should be treated as a truly private company and merely run on its ability to make profits? Or should the Government support it as it does for bridges and tunnels? Is this unique rail system important to be preserved for its history? Tell us what you think.
Courtesy: CNN, Amtrak