Republicans who voted to cut funding to Amtrak in the wake of the fatal crash have blood on their hands. These types of train crashes happen because cuts to funding translate into cuts to maintenance, leading to accidents that kill people. It’s just inevitable. Not if but when.
“The death toll from Tuesday’s Amtrak train derailment in Philadelphia is now at seven and is expected to rise. About a dozen passengers are still missing. Authorities now say the train was traveling at about 106 miles per hour, more than double the speed limit, as it headed into a steep curve. National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt said the accident would have been preventable if Amtrak had installed positive train control technology on that section of track. Just hours after the crash, the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee rejected a Democratic amendment to offer $825 million to speed up positive train control implementation. In addition, the committee voted to cut Amtrak’s budget by $250 million.”
I’ve been writing about public infrastructures importance since forever, a lonely voice in the wilderness arguing against privatization of the commons and touting the importance of government spending on public infrastructure in the effort to create a new green economy. Judging by the vote on train safety, instead of moving forward on infrastructure, we’re falling backwards. In fact, this could be part of a cynical plan to underfund Amtrak with the ultimate aim of privatization.
Many of our legislators are captured by corporate interests, who provide them with bountiful campaign contributions. In other countries, they call that sort of thing bribery, but here it’s just free speech.
“The chief sponsor of the bipartisan bill delaying the safety technology mandate, Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, has accepted more than $290,000 in campaign contributions from the railroad industry during his career — the fifth-highest tally in the Senate, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a campaign finance watchdog group. The Association of American Railroads — which counts private railroad companies and Amtrak as members — backed Blunt’s legislation to delay the mandate.”
Money is only part of the equation. Ideology drives much of the antipathy towards public mass transportation. Most lawmakers come from rural or suburban districts where the car is king and roads are sacrosanct. Mass transportation is viewed as something that urban residents (you know, those people) use rather than real Americans who drive automobiles. This ideology is backed up with cold hard cash that’s used to fund think tanks which provide intellectual justification for the present carbon based economy, including a car based transportation system.
“In an editorial titled “How Two Billionaires Are Destroying High Speed Rail in America,” Mike Vainisi observes that the push against public mass transit is being led by a think tank called the Reason Foundation, which is funded by the notorious Koch brothers.The Koch brothers’ $44 billion fortune comes largely from Koch Industries, an oil and gas conglomerate.That means they have a vested interest in those gas-guzzling single-rider vehicles that are mass transit’s competitors, the cars and trucks that use the roads that are heavily subsidized by the federal government.”
This conflict over transportation choices goes to the heart of the so-called red state–blue state conflict. I believe that the true divide is a rural vs urban one rather than a state vs state divide. The battle over infrastructure spending also reflects an unspoken economic argument between a green participatory economy that could work for the majority of Americans vs a old carbon economy that works for a few powerful oligarchs and is destroying our world.
To do this it’s important to not only maintain our infrastructure, but to build new infrastructure to move into a 21st century economy. The US spends a pittance on infrastructure compared to the rest of the developed world. We wonder endlessly why China is outpacing the US in GNP, but examining spending on infrastructure provides a clue. The US spends 2.5 % on infrastructure, while China spends 9%.
The US economy is captured by special interests, like the Koch brothers, who want to wring every dollar out of the old carbon based economy. Witness our energy and transportation policies. Supporting coal, oil and natural gas but not solar and wind and funding cars and roads but not rail and bike paths.
Once again the old carbon economy trumps a modern green one.
This goes to the heart of political-economy. Who gets what, and who pays the costs for these decisions.
Examining transportation policies exposes our deeply dysfunctional political system. For when we propose spending on infrastructure we run into the familiar argument of government as useless and the deep seated belief that private business can do anything the government can, only better. We’ve now endured a generation of these politicians waging an cynical war on the common good by defunding and sabotaging government while at the same time decrying it as useless. And our timorous media, so fearful of being described as liberal, has repeatedly failed to sound the alarm at this epic act of vandalism. There’s also the decades long tax revolt of America’s wealthy and their allies–an entire cohort of conservative lawmakers whose entire purpose is cutting the taxes of rich people–full stop.
Again, and I can’t say this often enough, our elite don’t care about our infrastructure because that would mean taxing them.
And, so more of us must die.