Will Biden’s $80 Billion Railroad Investment Make Amtrak Safer for Passengers?
Amtrak, America’s passenger rail service, is infamous for underinvestment and inadequate and sometimes hazardous railroads. However, that may change under President Joe Biden’s new $80 billion infrastructure plan which could result in a historic investment in the railroad. It remains to be seen whether the proposal will improve services between Norfolk, Newport News, Richmond, and Washington D.C. At present, services are infrequent and passengers often face delays when Amtrak trains have to wait for freight trains.
Amtrak lists a series of potential improvements including replacing aging tunnels responsible for bottlenecks and delays. It is likely to connect cities with inadequate rail services such as Nashville, Phoenix, and Las Vegas. After Biden’s recent announcement, Amtrak released a map it described as its vision for the railroad in 2035. “We have kind of that built-in name recognition, that built-in responsibility, that built in reputation that allows people, nationally, locally, to have the capacities in place and we have the expertise in order to operate those new routes,” Jason Abrams, Amtrak spokesman, said in a statement.
However, critics of Amtrak point to creaking railroads and a lack of connectivity. They point to the lack of reference to high-speed rail in the improvement strategy. “The fact that it strikes people as a fantastical plan should tell us very grim things about our ambition as Americans for infrastructure,” Sean Jeans-Gail, vice president at the Rail Passengers Association, said. The glaring omission of a high-speed rail line, or a bullet train, was highlighted by Yahoo News. The article stated no funding is likely to be made available for the building of a new high-speed rail line like those found in many European nations.
Jim Mathews, president and CEO of the Rail Passengers Association, said Amtrak may still be years away from true high-speed rail and is still recovering from an era of extreme cost-cutting. Amtrak trains have been involved in a series of deadly crashes in recent years. Our Virginia train accident injury lawyers have helped passengers who suffered serious injuries in train wrecks.
A crash in South Carolina in 2018 marked the fourth fatal incident in three months. Two Amtrak employees died when a train they were working on collided with a CSX train, CNN reported. The accident left 116 passengers injured. Eight crew members and 139 passengers were on the Amtrak that was bound for Florida. In Virginia, an Amtrak train collided with a truck on a grade crossing near Charlottesville. The wreck killed the driver of the truck. In North Carolina, a pastor, and his wife, were killed in Nash County when an Amtrak train hit their SUV on January 14.
A more serious accident occurred in Washington State where an Amtrak train derailed near DuPont on December 18, 2017. It crashed over an overpass onto an interstate. The train’s engineer told the National Transportation Safety Board the train hit 80 miles-per-hour as it passed milepost 15.5. He failed to brake sufficiently before reaching a curve with a 30-mph speed restriction. CNN reported the conductors and engineers warned their supervisor that they did not feel adequately trained on a new route. The train was equipped with positive train control (PTC), technology that can automatically slow down a speeding train, but the system was not yet functional on the train.
These crashes highlight the many challenges ahead of Amtrak. They also illustrate the crumbling nature of the network. A report by the Federal Railroad Administration found broken rails account for about 15% of derailments. Of 59,299 train accidents that occurred between 2001 and 2010, 54,889 were derailments. If you were injured as a railroad passenger on an Amtrak train in Norfolk, Newport News, Richmond, or elsewhere in Virginia or the rest of the U.S., you should talk to an experienced rail accident lawyer. Please call us today.