From the Tax Wall Street Party:
Electrification of United States railroads was a vital step forward in our nation’s economic development. Now, we must leap ahead of the rest of the world by building a nationwide passenger network of maglev trains.
In 1908 a group of entrepreneurs formed what then became the Washington, Baltimore, and Annapolis Railroad. It was to be a showpiece of electric rail technology. Fittingly, on November 17, 2015, the image of technological progress was restored to this now-defunct line. The Maryland Public Service Commission, in charge of issuing common carrier licenses in the state, issued the former Washington, Baltimore, and Annapolis electric railway passenger franchise to Northeast Maglev, a consortium of American investors and top Japanese railway JR Central. This sets Northeast Maglev on a course to begin environmental reviews and assessments for what they hope will be a high-speed Maglev line between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore with expectations to eventually reach New York. Current travel time on Amtrak’s Acela between Washington and Baltimore is 40 minutes. Maglev would knock this run down to 15 minutes. Maglev gains are best realized with above 30-mile station gaps. A fully realized Northeast Maglev would see trains reach NY from Washington, D.C. in an astonishing 1 hour. That’s a saving of 100 minutes from the current Acela time of 2hr 50min. Cost projections for the mostly underground first phase to Baltimore stand at $12 billion. The Japanese government of Abe has pledged $5 billion of funding from an unnamed Japanese government bank and favorable license agreements for the technology. There is currently no concrete funding to close the gap. Public and private sector support has been found mostly in catchy headlines.
After riding the Maglev in Japan, Governor Hogan of Maryland stated, “It was an incredible experience, even more impressive than I expected.” Coming from an austerity junkie like Hogan (who canceled the Baltimore Red Line and ended electrification at MARC) this is quite the statement for Maglev. Even the CEO of Under Armour Kevin Plank was on record saying, “Let’s build this thing”. Opponents are quite strong among the rail lobby. Andy Kunz, President and CEO of the US High-Speed Rail Association, a lobbying group for the passenger rail industry, issued these statements, “Unless someone has all the cash to build the whole system all in one go, or at least in rapid phasing, the whole thing doesn’t make sense… Who is going to come up with the other billion, or probably billion more?… The investment needed to build a maglev line between Washington and New York, the only connection that would make sense for the system, is so huge that it will never get built.” Kunz obviously is coming to the defense of his steel wheel benefactors. Under the current system of funding transportation, Kunz is correct. The system must reach New York and it will not reach it by regressive taxation. The United States has lagged behind while other nations have devoted increased funding to transportation. This has been negative domestically, but also affords the opportunity to perform a technological leapfrog.
The Tax Wall Street Party and United Front Against Austerity infrastructure-funding program is the only way create the massive capital for such a technological leap. The Federal Reserve’s ability to create credit must be used to fund the Washington to New York Maglev. The High-Speed Rail Association sees steel on steel as a 21st-century option, but in reality it is stuck in the middle 20th century. The way towards 21st-century infrastructure is through Maglev. The way to Maglev is a nationalized Federal Reserve. #LetsBuild
RAILROAD SAFETY CRYING OUT FOR CENTRALIZATION
Variety may be the spice of life, but it is not a recipe for 21st-century rail safety. On October 31st, President Obama signed an across the board three-year extension to the Federal Positive Train Control mandate. The Rail Safety and Improvement Act of 2008 compelled US railroads to install the advanced safety system by December 31st 2015. The rail industry would come nowhere near full implementation and threatened to shut down rail operations if an extension were not signed into law. Current private railroad progress towards full implementation has been pathetic. Currently, the US rail network has PTC implemented on 31% of locomotives, 14% of route miles, and 27% of rail employees are certified in the technology. Amtrak expects to complete the majority of the Northeast Corridor except trackage owned by the State of Connecticut. Connecticut trackage of the NEC is plagued by 100+ year-old lift bridges, many requiring complete disassembly of the railroad to allow maritime traffic to pass. Keep in mind this is considered the highest standard for high-speed rail in the United States.
Blame for PTC delays has been numerous. The FCC has been slow to authorize radio frequencies the PTC system relies upon. PTC incorporates GPS, locomotive mounted radios, and wayside radio signals to determine the location of trains. Many of the radio spectra used by PTC were owned by other organizations. The legal disputes for frequencies set many of the railroads behind schedule. Railroads themselves carry the bulk of the criticism for safety system delays. Heavy railroad lobbying has resulted in frequent safety punts by the industry. Most railroads are significantly behind PTC roadmaps. Now, with an extension to 2018 or 2019, will they be in compliance by the deadline? When the rail lobby was facing a similar fight against the implementation of electronically controlled pneumatic brakes (ECP), they successfully lobbied Congress to push back the implementation by calling for more research.
Railroads have declared this the safest era of freight railroading, but the truth is many railroads have struggled to maintain even early 19th-century safety standards. With the delay in ECP braking, the modern US railroad relies on an air brake system designed by the Westinghouse Air Brake Company in the late 1860s. Where ECP provides immediate brake release and system status updates, the current air brake system initiates slowly car by car with no such notification system. Even with successful lobbying, railroads are still failing to meet antiquated safety standards. Would you be surprised if the chief violator of safety mandates is a Wall Street oligarch’s railroad? Warren Buffet’s Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) frequently pushes crews to ignore federally mandated brake tests of these systems. Crewmembers who report these safety violations are promptly terminated from employment. If a whistleblower is a member of a crew or track gang the entire group is then fired. Not only have they put domestic safety in jeopardy in favor of profits, but also they have sent hardworking Americans to the streets.
The Obama administration has played its part too, frequently advancing the “Green Economy” at the expense of a modern railroad. In an outrageous assertion before Congress on January 26, 2011, Cass Sunstein, the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration, testified to the following:
“Mrs. Myrick: The other thing that I wanted to ask is, when you look back on the regulations that have been issued during the Administration, can you identify any in which it has been determined that the benefits have not justified the cost? Do you have that kind of analysis that you could share with us?
Mr. Sunstein: Yes. There is only one big one that comes to mind. It is called Positive Train Control, and it is a statutory requirement, and the Department of Transportation had to issue it as a matter of law even though the monetizable benefits are lower than the monetizable costs. There aren’t a lot like that.”
Sunstein claims that among all his environmental regulations supporting the phony Green Economy that the only failed policy was Positive Train Control, a system that the National Transportation Safety Board has shown would have prevented many of the high fatality passenger rail accidents in the past decade. His reasoning for this is not because the system fails or is insufficient, but because of a cost-benefit analysis. The GOP pushes the ugliest form of economic austerity, but the Democratic Party plays their role through energy austerity. The banality of their algorithms ignores the impact of these events measured in both loss of life and catastrophic economic loss.
PTC originally landed on the map with the 2008 Metrolink Carlsbad, California collision. A Metrolink train went through a red signal while the engineer was texting and collided head-on with a Union Pacific freight train. The result was 25 dead and 135 injured. Estimated losses were upwards of $7 million. At this point, PTC legislation was in overdrive and the 2008 Railroad Safety Act was signed into Law. The December 2013 Metro-North Spuyten Duyvil derailment occurred when an engineer became dazed in the cab control car. The train entered the Spuyten Duyvil curve at too high a speed and derailed. There were 4 fatalities and 61 injured. Estimated damages were $9 million and the Poughkeepsie rail line, a vital rail link from upstate New York to Manhattan, was shut down entirely for multiple days.
An event that symbolizes exactly what we want to avoid through modern safety systems is the Canadian Lac-Megantic derailment in 2013. PTC would not have prevented this, but it shows what can happen when these trains collide or derail. A stalled train lost brake pressure and drifted downhill at high speeds finally derailing in the town of Lac-Megantic. 63 of the 70+ train cars derailed releasing over 6 million tons of crude oil. 47 people died with only 42 of the bodies being found. 30 buildings in the town were leveled. As oil entered and burned through the town sewer system it shot out manholes, home chimneys, and drains in a fiery inferno. Emergency workers described the scene as a “war zone” and were only allowed to work in 15-minute shifts due to benzene contamination.
The United States is not immune to this situation. The tanker cars involved in this derailment were the DOT-111 tanker. It was originally designed in the 1960s to haul non-hazardous liquids and comprises 60% of the North American tanker car fleet. It’s referred to as a “Pepsi can on wheels” by rail industry insiders. The NTSB has cited this car as having increased risk of hull punctures. In order to meet the record demand from increased fracking output, US railroads have turned to the DOT-111 for shale traffic. The situation has been exacerbated by President Obama’s foolish and shortsighted cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline. The oil pipeline infrastructure has been at capacity for several years now and has resulted in the spike in railroad oil traffic. In an era where trains transport hazardous materials at all time levels (such as oil — over 9 million barrels per day), we cannot afford a cocktail of inferior safety systems to support the industry.
A major deterrent for private railroads’ implementing modern safety systems is obviously cost-benefit analysis. Private railroads have shown they cannot see past profits. Only a strong federal government can stand tall against profiteering at the expense of a modern transportation network. The Tax Wall Street Party is calling for a centralized PTC standard, modern anti-rupture tanker cars, and ECP braking on all trains funded by 0% credit issued from the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve offered $27 trillion to Wall Street financial institutions. That money given to Wall Street provided the American people with absolutely nothing, but a mere $10 billion of that could completely upgrade the safety systems in American railroading. #Tarpley4FedHead