EDITORIAL: How to keep people out of harm’s way
Commuters risk their lives on precarious modes of transportation
Transportation in the United States pales in comparison to its efficient and reliable European counterparts. Waiting for late buses or trains were frustrating for those who don’t own cars, and those who had the privilege of owning a vehicle have their own share of problems — getting stuck in hours of traffic and having to go over unmaintained bridges. An Associated Press analysis of 607,380 bridges in the most recent federal National Bridge Inventory showed that 65,605 were classified as “structurally deficient” and 20,808 as “fracture critical.” And of those, experts say 7,795 were red flags that indicate a risk of collapse. Problems with infrastructure as it relates to transportation are a serious national concern, and last week’s events proved that this issue is too close to home.
Last Thursday was marked by a devastating turn of events for New Jersey when a train barreled into the Hoboken train station without slowing down, killing a woman standing on a platform and injuring more than 100 others. It appears that methods of transportation, namely public transportation (or public roads), are not only notorious for their unreliability: Nowadays they’re gaining a reputation for their potential fatality.
Hoboken has seen a similar crash occur in the past and both events happened a little before 9 in the morning. Though not at the same magnitude as this recent crisis, a PATH commuter train crashed into the Hoboken Terminal in 2011, injuring dozens of people, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Moreover, an audit by the Federal Railroad Administration earlier this year shows that the rail line had more than 180 safety violations since the start 2011. If a crash like this happened five years ago and still accrued 180 safety violations, can the public’s safety truly be ensured in the future?
It’s disgraceful that more than 100 people have to be injured and one person has to die to catalyze necessary changes in the U.S., and preventative measures aren’t established well beforehand. The New Jersey Transit authority has been underfunded, as well as the New Jersey’s state infrastructure fund, and supported by the state’s gas tax that hadn’t been raised since 1998, ran out of money this summer. Only after the Hoboken crash did Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) and New Jersey’s state legislature announce a compromise that will increase the tax and fund the state’s Transportation Trust Fund. (However, Christie’s concession to raise taxes for the first time during his term also came with tax cuts for the wealthy in the form of cutting back on estate taxes and sales taxes.)
Moreover, the Hoboken incident occurred because the train was traveling considerably faster than it should. Some federal lawmakers said a positive train control that combined a GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor trains to stop the trains from derailing, colliding or speeding could have prevented the crash from occurring. Congress originally required this new safety system to be installed by the end of 2015, but extended the deadline later to 2018.
Investing in public safety and transportation infrastructure doesn’t happen until the damage is already done. With the recent Hoboken crash, some are already clamoring to point fingers at the engineer or the driver of the train for not doing their job properly or for being distracted. While information has yet to be released regarding their culpability, it is also important to keep in mind the structural factors — safety violations, postponing the installments of positive train controls, underfunded transportation and infrastructure systems — that primed the conditions for this crash to occur. The public shouldn’t have to wait for more people to die until effective policy is implemented to address exigent transportation concerns.
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