The latest Amtrak accident came Sunday in South Carolina. Two people died; 116 were injured. In the first five weeks of 2018, we've seen six people die in Amtrak collisions, and dozens more injured.
Central Illinois is poised to join the expanding Amtrak world with high-speed rail connecting Chicago with St. Louis, with stops in Dwight, Pontiac, Normal, Lincoln and Springfield in our region. The rail line, which cost $1.95 billion, will finish construction soon and be in use in 2019.
Train travel remains one of the safest modes of transportation. According to the federal Department of Transportation, flying is the safest.
According to data collected by Northwestern University, in the first decade of this century, flying claimed the fewest lives per billion passenger miles. Flying's death rate was 0.07 deaths per billion miles. Bus deaths were 0.11 per, then transit rail (0.24) and regular rail (0.43).
Car deaths were 7.28 per billion passenger miles, and 212.57 per billion motorcycle miles.
That clearly makes an argument that we should listen to, but don't want to. When others are in charge of our traveling, it's their professionalism that helps make our journey safer. We don't like giving up control, but the numbers show that when we do, we're safer.
Over the past decade, there have been about 31 derailments per year, according to the Federal Railroad Administration, a number significantly down from the 54 derailments that occurred per year over the decade before. A larger percentage of the train-related deaths were not from accidents or derailments. They were pedestrians either trespassing or traveling dangerously close to tracks.
When an Amtrak train ran off a new line in Washington state in December, President Donald Trump's first response was it wouldn't have happened if his infrastructure bill had passed. He abandoned that idea after Sunday's Amtrak accident, going back to the “thoughts and prayers” response that comes to millions of us when we face something horrific.
Maybe infrastructure improvements can reduce traveling deaths. Certainly poor road conditions play a role in many car and motorcycle deaths.
But there's also a portion of Trump's base that doesn't want to see its pocketbooks invaded any more. So U.S. systems that were the envy of the world 50 years ago have grown obsolete. In last week's State of the Union address last week, he raised the amount of his infrastructure plan to $1.5 trillion.
How many lives would be saved with an investment in rail lines and roads? There's no way of knowing. What we do know, though, is train accidents keep happening. Roads and bridges deteriorate and we hope that we won't become part of the grim litany of lives changed by issues on the roads.
We're finally beginning to realize that money isn't the solution to every problem, and we can't afford to do that anyway. As a society, we're facing difficult investment decisions. Generally, what we want is more with reduced financial responsibility. That trick doesn't seem to be working anymore.