Danger On The Tracks?

Metro-North Train Derails In Bronx

Neena Satija hopes politicians start paying more attention to railroads in light of yesterday’s deadly accident in the Bronx:

Investing in basic infrastructure needs like maintenance isn’t a sexy political cause. But it’s necessary. And passenger rail may not even be the biggest concern: freight rail accidents actually could be the most catastrophic. The American Society of Civil Engineers said in 2006 that more than $120 billion will need to be pumped into U.S. rail infrastructure to keep up with increasing demand for freight rail by 2035 – and that was before a major oil and gas boom in the U.S. created a market for rail transport of crude.

Update from a reader, with some key perspective:

Every time there is a tragedy, the usual suspects call for more spending or regulation or both.  However, even a cursory view of the facts reveals that the train was driving 82MPH around a curve rated at 30MPH.

Pareene isn’t optimistic that more rail investment is coming:

This should be the most transit-friendly government in the country: A majority of New York citizens rely on public transit for their livelihoods. The city and state are run by Democrats, many of them among the most liberal in the nation. Our incoming mayor, Bill de Blasio, ran as a left-wing populist. But incoming mayor Bill de Blasio is a driver. Andrew Cuomo has been a driver, or had drivers, his entire life. There are certain richer Manhattanites, accustomed to walking, for whom anti-car policies improve their quality of life, but for most of the political class, everyone they know and interact with owns a car.

Along those lines, Priceonomics passes along the chart seen below, showing the increase in commuting by car:


All these commuters could be carpooling, but as Planet Money points out, the percentage of Americans who carpool decreased from 20% to 10% over the past 30 years. (Despite all the new carpool lanes built.) All other forms of commuting became less common from 1980 to 2011 except for working from home. So the only categories that didn’t continually decrease over the past 50 years were “Private Vehicle” and “Work At Home.” We’ll have to wait and see whether the movement for all things green pushes up the numbers of people biking, walking, and using mass transport. But environmental efforts are fighting against longtime commuting trends. 

Meanwhile, Brian Merchant imagines a technological fix:

According to New York governor Andrew Cuomo, the leading culprit in the cause of the accident is excessive speed, likely coupled with human error. The train was moving too fast as it came around a notoriously treacherous bend.  There are a number of reasons that trains end up traveling at excessive speeds. But a common one is that the trains are simply running late, and the conductor is trying to make up for lost time. That lost time is likely incurred by delays. According to a 2010 University of Illinois paper called Determining the Causes of Train Delay, the “operational causes” of delays were primarily due to problems with “acceleration, braking, reduced speed and dwell time.”

And here’s one way to streamline all of the above: Build a train that never stops. That was Chinese designer Chen Jianjun’s idea as far back as 2010, and the idea remains interesting today.

(Photo: In this handout photo provided by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), a Metro North train sits derailed in the Bronx borough of New York City on December 01, 2013. Multiple injuries and four deaths were reported after the seven-car train left the tracks as it was heading to Grand Central Terminal along the Hudson River line. Photo by NTSB via Getty Images)