No Matter the Ailment, More Federal Spending Is the Prescription

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

In Philadelphia, federal crash investigators are in the early stages of determining why an Amtrak train derailed. Six people are dead, at least eight still in critical condition.

But why bother waiting for the accident professionals to tell us why it happened? Plenty of political professionals already know the solution: Spend more on Amtrak.

“There is clearly more that can be done when we’re talking about a railway infrastructure that is decades-old,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said. “If there’s an opportunity for us to make further investments in our infrastructure that would better safeguard the traveling public, then those are investments that we should make.”

In the House of Representatives, Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) swiftly tried to tack an additional $1 billion for Amtrak onto a spending bill. That was shot down in committee, but expect to hear more about the importance of such “investments” in the days and weeks ahead.

But the problem of a government-run railroad isn’t under-investment as much as it is misguided investment. We spend more than enough on trains, but spend it in the wrong places.

For example, when he took office, President Obama had big plans for railway spending. National Journal last month wrote that he wanted to vastly expand “high speed” rail travel. Obama “used his stimulus legislation to award more than $8 billion to the cause, nearly $7 billion of which would go to California, Florida, Wisconsin, and Ohio for what were billed as bullet-train proposals. (Congress tacked on $2.1 billion more in subsequent years for high-speed rail.)”

Note what those plans have in common: billions for new rail lines in far-flung states. Nothing for the Northeast Corridor, where trains are actually capable of carrying people and making money.

It was all a pipe dream, of course. Ohio’s version wouldn’t have topped 50 MPH, so it was in no way “high speed” rail. Republican governors in Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin cancelled the plans, returning the cash so it could be “invested” in other places. As it was. “Dozens of other incremental projects across the country, featuring terms like ‘obsolete signaling systems’ and ‘hazardous materials shipments,’ received cash as well,” National Journal explained.

Meanwhile, California is moving ahead with its plans to spend (invest?) tens of billions in a rail project. The first segment, set to connect Madera to downtown Fresno (they’re 29 miles apart) is underway. Note that both places are a long way from the population centers of Los Angeles and San Francisco – the cities the train is supposed to connect. Eventually.

The bottom line is this: We don’t know what caused the Amtrak disaster. Maybe it was track failure. Maybe driver error. Maybe something else. What we know for sure is that some will always know the solution to every problem is more federal spending.


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