Free Markets, Free People

Politicizing the Amtrak incident

One of the favorite ploys of Democrats is to claim the GOP has a tendency to “politicize” tragedies.

Well, there’s politicizing a problem and then there pretending there is a problem in order to politicize it.   This recent Amtrak tragedy is the latter.

What do I mean?  Well, they hadn’t even cleared the bodies from the wreckage before former Governor Ed Rendell was on “Morning Joe” talking about how it was due to a lack of infrastructure spending.

Meanwhile, the NTSB is putting out stuff like this:

screenshot 2

Oh … 100 mph in a 50 mph curve?  That’s an obvious problem with “infrastructure spending”, isn’t it?

But that didn’t stop the Democrats talking point from continuing to roll, did it?  Nope, the good old reliable media pitches in as well.  Phillip Bump in the Washington Post:

As The Post’s Colby Itkowitz noted, Congress has delayed passing legislation to fund Amtrak since 2013. The last time it did so, in 2008, the vote passed only after a rail disaster. Which, of course, happened again Tuesday night.

The constant struggle of Amtrak to get funding derives largely from the fact that not very many Americans use the rail system. Ridership is heavily centered in the Northeast, in the corridor between Boston and Washington where Tuesday’s accident occurred. But more than that, ridership is unevenly distributed politically. Data from the National Association of Railroad Passengers shows the number of passengers that get on or off the train in any given congressional district, and reveals an obvious reason why Republicans might not be too concerned about funding the system.

Amtrak has never had a profitable year since its inception.  In fact it is a totally subsidized rail system that would fail if not subsidized.  And as Bump mentions, it is “heavily centered” in a northeastern corridor.  So essentially, given the fact that the “elites” want Americans in mass transit and this fits the description, plus it is very handy for said elites to use if they so choose, they’re fine with a wealth transfer from the rest of the country to support their desires.

Powerline picks up on the media bias as well:

There is a certain irony in these three stories perching one above the other on Politico’s main page: House panel votes to cut Amtrak budget hours after deadly crashAnalysis: GOP cuts to transportation, housing draw fire; and Derailed Amtrak was likely traveling at twice recommended speed.

Politico is a mouthpiece for the Washington establishment, where all spending is good spending. But the anti-Republican theme was picked up by many other news outlets, like Reuters: “Amtrak crash throws spotlight on funding disputes; Republicans back cuts.” And the New York Daily News: “Deadly malfeasance: Amtrak passengers paid with their lives for Washington’s neglect of transportation.”

But funding is not the problem.  Amtrak has gotten over 30 billion dollars in subsidies since its founding in 1970.  30 billion.  For a small railroad.  The WaPo’s Bump also claimed that “Republicans” hadn’t funded Amtrak since 2013.

In fact, they gave Amtrak nearly $1.4 billion less than five months ago.

One of those anti-narrative facts that keep ruining their righteous rant.

Oh, and as for “infrastructure spending?”  You remember the stimulus don’t you?  Wasn’t that for “infrastructure?” And who was in charge of doling out the loot then?

Yeah, certainly not Republicans.

Meanwhile, the union associated with Amtrak decides it too needs to score political points on the back of the 7 dead and many injured:

The Teamsters-affiliated Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Lodge 3014(BMWE) published a blog post on Tuesday attributing the deadly crash to new safety standards proposed by management of the government-partnered railroad.

“The new ‘One Amtrak Way’, along with the new inexperienced Amtrak senior management (after the old experienced senior managers were fired) has lead to this massive derailment,” the union said.


Reuters reported that the train was not equipped with the latest U.S. safety controls that are supposed to prevent high-speed derailments.

The Pennsylvania-based BMWE failed to mention the actions of the operator on its website, instead focusing on the union dispute with management. The crash, the post said, came as “senior management has declared war on safety with it’s [sic] unions.” Union membership unanimously approved a resolution in April giving union leadership permission to call a strike. Lodge 3014 had about 240 members in 2014, according to its most recent federal labor filings.

“The unions [sic] struggle to maintain safe working conditions is hampered by Amtrak senior management’s lust for complete control and railroad inexperience,” the blog post said.


Why does Amtrak continue to be such a fiscal wreck?  The usual reasons:

In its current form, Amtrak is less a for-profit passenger rail corporation and more a union jobs program (its ridiculous labor contracts are a major reason why the company is perpetually swimming in red ink).

Despite all the disingenuous chatter about a lack of infrastructure funding for Amtrak, the company’s salary costs absolutely dwarf its infrastructure depreciation expenses. In 2013, for example, Amtrak spent $2.1 billion on salaries, while it recorded $687 million in annual depreciation costs. Amtrak’s pension losses alone in 2013 totaled $425 million.

The numbers are pretty easy to compute.  Nothing is going to change here.  Amtrak will continue to be a money pit that benefits only a relative few in the country.

However, again, funding and spending wasn’t the reason this train crashed and killed, is it?  At least no according to witnesses and a preliminary finding by the NTSB.

But since the politicizing has begun by the left, why not jump in.  Powerline asks the pertinent questions:

The real question is, why is the federal government in the railroad business at all? Far more people are killed in automobile accidents than train crashes, but no one says the problem is that the federal government doesn’t pay enough money to car companies. If Amtrak can’t operate safely–reasonably safely, since nothing is absolutely safe–based on the revenue it gets from customers, it should go out of business, like any other company.

Here is another question: why should businessmen, journalists, lobbyists and politicians who commute between Washington and points north have their travel costs subsidized by taxpayers? Train travel costs what it costs. Those who ride the trains should pay those costs, just like those who fly in airplanes. It is absurd that the richest and most powerful companies in the United States have their employees’ travel costs subsidized by you and me. This is cronyism at its worst. Amtrak should be a wholly private enterprise. Having ridden that Northeastern line that goes to Washington a number of times, I think it has great advantages over air travel and could easily charge enough money to be profitable in competent hands.

Look folks, the federal government has proven its incompetence for decades when it comes to running or managing anything in a efficient and cost-effective way.  Why?  Because there are no penalties for it not doing so.  It just takes more of your money to cover its incompetence or goes into debt in your name.

These questions deserve answers. The incompetence involved, the fiscal waste, is simply staggering.  And 7 people paid with their lives because of it.

Will we get any answer to those questions?  Oh, no.  The elites are fine with you subsidizing their travel expenses.  And since, it seems, most of our “leadership” comes out of that area anymore, you’re not going to see that change anytime soon.

Divestment of Amtrak is the answer, but then, passengers would have to pay real costs wouldn’t they?  And the leaching elites, who will condemn you in a NY minuted for not paying your “fair share” aren’t about to see this bit of subsidized cronyism pass by the way side are they?

I mean how would Joe Biden get home?





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29 Responses to Politicizing the Amtrak incident

  • Amtrak is one of the persistent fascist legacies we suffer from the Nixon Administration.

    It isn’t a truly government outfit. It’s a quasi-private Frankenstein monster, exactly in the fascist model.

    The absolute best thing that could be done with Amtrak is privatization. (See the period?)

    Some level of Federal subsidization would not be inappropriate in light of the funding for competitive transportation systems. Until that, too, is phased out.

  • So….the wreck was caused by Senior Management fighting with the Union over working conditions…..

    Where and when?

    In the cab of the engine while they were rounding the curve at 100+ miles an hour?

    Is this one of those Indiana Jones things where the eye patch wearing brown shirt uniformed senior manager cackled diabolically after he whacked the engineer with a handy stillson wrench (which may explain why “he can’t remember”), jammed the throttle into the red zone and leapt from the train?

    How about we paint that in a different light and say a UNION employee with reckless disregard for safety, himself, the train, passengers or bystanders allowed the train to attempt a curve at twice the posted speed and now has gone all 5th Amendment with his lawyer.
    How about we just admit THAT was the cause of the wreck.

  • And Biden?
    Could borrow Nancy Pelosi’s fleet of 737’s that she tried to get passed in the 2010 Defense Department appropriations bill.

  • Obviously, the train heard about the possible budget cuts and committed seppuku.

  • One of the favorite ploys of Democrats is to claim the GOP has a tendency to “politicize” tragedies.

    I have just one name as a rebuttal .. Paul Wellstone.
    The memorial service for Wellstone and the other victims of the crash was held in Williams Arena at the University of Minnesota and was broadcast live on national TV.

  • Populism works two ways. The public should wonder exactly why they’re subsidizing travel for people who can afford to pay for it

    • I subsidize trucking with a disproportionate burden on road related state taxes I pay vs. the damage I do. I’m not sure why rail gets singled out. Passenger rail may be wishful thinking but cargo may be a different story. Different Cronies, I guess.

      • Question is do you derive ANY benefit from the AmTrak passenger service?

        At least with trucking you actually do gain some benefit.

      • WTF are you talking about?!?! Trucks pay for themselves. Put up some support for your loopy claim.

        • Maybe its a regional slang thing this is a truck this is a pickup or light truck)

          Amtrak typically gets 1.5 billion from the Feds for a country of 300 million or about 120 million wage earner. Michigan pays almost $1 billion on Roads among 10 million people. In twenty years here I can recall at most 7 miles of new road in a tri-county area and zero lane expansions. All that budget is repair. The roads are in a constant state of repair to the benefit of not only Trucks but construction companies at the expense of taxpayers most of which do not do the level of damage per taxes paid that the Trucks do. Michigan is more obvious because they allow double the load per axle than any other state. The roads post repair last inversely proportional to the level of Truck traffic. Roads that become a detour that were decades of being decent start crumbling almost immediately from Trucks.

  • About those speed control systems:

    There are two speed control systems installed on railroad tracks near the crash site of Amtrak Train 188 in Philadelphia. But one isn’t turned on, and the other is on tracks only in the southbound direction.

    • The best speed control system was/is located about 12 inches aft of the throttle.

  • And now for the troubling:

    Speaking with WTOP on Friday, Mark Rosenker, a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board and a transportation and aviation safety analyst for CBS News, says that the train’s speed increased from 70 mph to over 100 in its last minute – more than 50 mph over the speed limit for that curve.

    Asked whether that means engineer Brandon Bostian had opened the throttle all the way, Rosenker said, “Absolutely. This thing was full throttle. There was no brake applied at all going toward the curve, until he was in the curve. And at that point he applied the emergency brake, which was much too late. It went from 106 to 104 – hardly anything” before it derailed.

    I’m hoping this is not something the engineer did along the lines of that suicidal German pilot. Maybe something went wrong with the throttle and it got stuck open.

  • Now we have word that the driver increased speed going into the curve.

    Beginning to smell like the German airline suicide/homicide…

    • Whaaaaaat?

      You mean the Republicans were trying to commit suicide by making the train go faster through the curve when they knew they hadn’t spent any money on Amtrak infrastructure and were treating the whole system like (trigger warning occurs here) illegal mezkins?
      That kind of suicide?

      • We don’t know that yet. For the sake of human decency, I’m hoping this was some sort of mechanical failure that the engineer had less than a minute to fix. If this was done on purpose then it was truly a depraved act.

        • Well, for the sake of human decency I’m trying to understand how the Republicans caused this – The Preznit seemed to think it was the fault of evil cheap Republicans when they knew absolutely nothing. other than there was a wreck.

          From this
          “May 13, 2015 Calling the Amtrak train derailment a “horrific incident,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said investment in upgrades to the rail system’s infrastructure remain important to the administration. And President Obama, he said, has long advocated for Amtrak investments that would “benefit the traveling public.”

          But Earnest was quick to note in his press briefing Wednesday that congressional Republicans have blocked such investments in the past.

          “Unfortunately we have seen a concerted effort by Republicans for partisan reasons to step in front of those kinds of advancements.”

          The usual buzzards aren’t letting up on their rhetoric.

          • I’ll agree that the Democrats have no shame when it comes to grave dancing for taxpayer money.
            Amtrack is already a lost cause. The government has consistently shoveled money at it to little or no effect. If this does turn out to be a funding problem then that should be a stake through the heart of Amtrack which has always been a funding problem.

          • @tkc, Amtrak exists, not for the unions it supports (people give way too much credit to their influence with politicians including Democrats), it exists as a option for mass transit. In the long run, the Left wants the car taken away from the average person. You can’t do that if you don’t pretend there are viable mass transit alternatives that fill every niche satisfied by the car. Take a look at CA, they are building a Hi Speed train from nowhere to nowhere and giddy for the ‘hyperloop’.

            Its a “mass transit is the future” boondoggle and for that reason it won’t be allowed to be turned off.

      • Nope. Not a known known…yet.

        But his I do know…modern locomotives (and this one was only a year old) have a lot of fail-safes built into them. Just like airliners.

        Like I say: it begins to smell wrong. Time…and due process…will tell.

        • I also know that modern locomotives are complex machines. They can fail whether it be from lack of upkeep, to bad luck, to human error, to bad intentions.
          You can build the safest car in the world but if you drive it at 100mph over a 500ft cliff then that is going to end badly for you.

          • Well there are only a limited number of options on why the throttle would be increased going into the curve yes?

            1) intentional attempt to cause a wreck, which very likely he believed he would die in since he’d be the lead car in the train slinky smashup.
            – reasonably good chance.
            2) intentional attempt to cause a wreck where he understood being in the heavy car, the engine, he might very well stay upright after it leaves the tracks on the curve.
            – eh…maybe, his goal then was, workplace violence?
            3) ‘senior’ moment where throttle back became throttle forward.
            – Not sure how old the dude is, but it’s a possibility when we’re talking about a human.
            4) actual weird mechanical error that jumped the throttle forward on it’s own at exactly the right moment (meaning the completely wrong moment) in time.
            – strange stuff happens.
            5) discovery that the throttle controls can be controlled by WiFi and the throttle was taken over and advanced with intent to cause mayhem.
            – strange stuff happens sometimes and a third party attacked the system.

            Any other ideas on why it went to full?

          • I’m also keeping in mind he isn’t claiming the throttle jumped forward all on it’s own that I know of.

          • No. They are wonderfully NOT complex machines, especially as compared to their ancestors. This is ONE of the challenges of train drivers (who are by no means “engineers”). Avoiding boredom/drifting and hypnosis is tough for truckers (as I know well). It’s much harder for train drivers.

            Throttles do not advance themselves.

  • I don’t know why the throttle went to full. I can only guess. Let’s not be like the leftists. Let’s wait to see what the investigation turns up.

    • I have been more inclined towards driver error, rather than intent.

      I’ll be surprised if it’s ‘mechanical’ – there is so little mechanical left these days.
      Everything is wire…or wireless.

    • Like I say: it begins to smell wrong. Time…and due process…will tell.

      How do I get more clear?

  • Am-Track has been called “Slam-Track” for as long as it’s been running and wrecking.
    Their safety record is abysmal, I’ll never “climb aboard” so long as it remains a goberment run boondogle.