By Monsignor William J. Linder
The investigation of the train derailment in Philadelphia is shrouded by unanswered questions as well as the eerily precise words believed to have been written in an online forum a few years earlier by the Amtrak engineer on board that very train:
“It shouldn’t take an act of Congress to get (the rail) industry to adopt common-sense safety systems on their own.”
Eight lives were lost after Amtrak’s Northeast Regional Train No. 188 derailed on May 12. The victims included a start-up executive on her way home to the Lower East Side to see her 2-year-old, a 20-year-old aspiring Navy SEAL who graduated high school as a valedictorian, and the dean of student affairs and enrollment management at a college in Brooklyn, who had a passion for helping youth.
Eight lives were cut short and many more suffered injuries after the train sped into a curve at a reported 106 mph and crashed. How many more wake-up calls must we endure?
The quoted statement, which seems to have foreshadowed the tragedy but obviously had no direct connection, reminds us that common sense safety measures have been ignored. We must have a rigorous debate addressing America’s infrastructure and what is being done to invest in the safety of every person who rides a train, drives down a highway or crosses a bridge.
Let me be clear, the time for scoring political points in the wake of the horrific crash—by Democrats or Republicans—is over. Partisan spats have divided our nation so deeply in recent years that legislators appear to have forgotten how to devote themselves solely to solving the matter at hand for the greater good of society. Yes, we need meticulous oversight of federally subsidized agencies such as Amtrak. But we also need dedicated funding for improvements such as the technology known as positive train control, a safeguard that might have prevented the recent crash. Safety must be a top priority. News reports say there is no evidence that the train engineer, Brandon Bostian, was criminally reckless.
Meanwhile, the rail industry must also do everything in its power to enact safety measures that are “common sense.” Because an act of Congress may come too late and we cannot wait for another catastrophe.