Deficient management core reason for fatal high-speed rail crash in US

By Wang Jiamei Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/21 23:58:14

After the deadly Amtrak derailment in the US state of Washington, US President Donald Trump tweeted that the accident underscores the need for his infrastructure plan. But it's misleading to talk about infrastructure without mentioning the deficient management system, the core reason behind the crash.

While the US rail system is facing the problem of aging infrastructure, the train in the accident was on its maiden voyage on newly constructed tracks. According to the latest media reports, the train was running at 80 miles (130 kilometers) per hour on a curved track with a speed limit of only 30 miles per hour.

This was also the 26th derailment that Amtrak has had in the US since 2014.

Aging infrastructure may have played a role in the frequent rail accidents, but poor and outdated management is more to blame, particularly when safety improvement lags far behind technology.

After a collision in 2008, the US Congress required all railroads to install "positive train control," a technology that can automatically slow down trains or stop them to prevent collisions, derailments and other accidents. The deadline was 2015, but it was then extended until the end of 2018 as rail authorities were slow to act. According to media reports, the equipment was installed on tracks in the Washington derailment, but it was not activated as it was still being tested.

China's high-speed railways have had accidents, but its safety culture has been improving continuously and has reached a relatively high level. It is often said that China and the US have large scope for infrastructure cooperation, especially in the rail segment. Such cooperation may sound good, but if the US management cannot keep up, it will be hard to really see any results from cooperation.

It may only take five years to finish a high-speed rail line in China, but under the old Amtrak-style management, who knows how many years it would require in the US.

With one of the world's largest railway networks, the US used to be the model for developing countries. Making America great again should start with reform and overhaul of management mechanisms, but that's the hardest part.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.


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