What other unthinkable things await us?

Posted by Steve Sweeney
on Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Ask the editors at Trains.

When I read the statement from Amtrak at 12:49 p.m. (Central) in my email inbox, I swore — a lot.

One trainset of the one and only high-speed rail service in the Western Hemisphere pulled apart on the Northeast Corridor. 

The New York Post reports that Acela Express train 2150 was moving at 125 mph when it separated in Maryland. The news organization shows a photo of what appears to be a loose drawbar on the semi-permanently coupled trainset hanging between cars as though it had nowhere in particular to go. Thank God, no one was hurt.

But this happened. 

In the United States of America.

So far, most media organizations haven't grasped the gravity of this. The closest I can come up with is if the Acela were an airplane, this would be the wing coming off in mid-air. Or if it were a automobile, the auto's frame split in two with the back section falling out and the front still moving forward.

Regardless of the analogy, each incident is an example of a catastrophic failure of things coming apart that shouldn't unless you have an acetylene torch and some time. And this incident comes just days after the Silver Star crash near Columbia, S.C.

I'm tempted to prognosticate on the future of Amtrak and safety, or call on fellow rail enthusiasts to band together for a higher purpose to pass a law, draw attention to the issue, or something. Only, I don't know what we should call for. We need more safety, more money for infrastructure, a leader at the Federal Railroad Administration, and new and more Amtrak equipment, to start. That is before we can get to high-speed passenger corridors around the country, a durable positive train control network, and more cities with a rail alternative to commuting on highways. I thought we might be making a little headway as a country with more Charger locomotives, light rail projects here and there, and a handful of infrastructure grants sprinkled generously for good effect in urban areas.

But an Acela pulled apart on the Northeast Corridor today. Before today, it was unthinkable.

I shudder to think what other unthinkable things await us.

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