A train derailed and crashed into a station in Hoboken, New Jersey, during rush-hour this morning, reportedly leaving at least one person dead and more than 100 others injured.
After everyone was rescued from the train, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called into CNN and expressed concern and confusion about the accident, asking “How could this happen?”
He really wants to know specifics, like whether the engineer is to blame, and what specifically caused the train to derail and crash into the station.
Over time we’ll get many of these answers, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Railroad Administration will investigate the extent of the damages and try their best to pinpoint a culprit.
But right now it looks pretty straight forward, like the crash could have been avoided if the train had Positive Train Control technology.
Positive Train Control technology automatically slows down a train if it goes over the speed limit on a stretch of track, and the NTSB blamed its absence for the train crash that killed eight passengers outside of Philadelphia in May of 2015.
Trains all across the country are equipped with outdated technology, and it’s because ever since Reagan’s aggressive eight-year effort to do away with federal transportation funding to the states, attacking transportation funding has been a trademark of Republican policies.
Republican governors, including Christie, still to this day insist on suffocating transportation budgets, paying for only the bare minimum infrastructure upkeep and updates, and then acting shocked when accidents like this happen and people die as a result.
Ryan R. Hall with the Tri-State Transportation Report issued a report earlier this year pointing out that capital investment in rail projects in New Jersey fell by 34 percent between 2002 and 2016, even though ridership went up by more than 20 percent during the same period!
The report also shows how they made up for the cuts by simply raising fares, raiding other state funds and spending money that had been set aside for major projects like outfitting trains with Positive Train Control technology.
Christie has cancelled or shelved a number of major projects since he’s been governor, and during the last 15 years the state has taken more than $5 billion earmarked for major projects and instead paid for standard operating expenses, like paying workers’ wages and keeping the office lights on.
And as a result, the Department of Transportation reports that New Jersey Transit trains had 213 major breakdowns in 2014 alone, more than two-and-a-half times more than the neighboring Long Island Rail Road, and four times the US average!
Even though gutting transportation budgets and privatizing services has been a standard Republican play since Reagan, Christie has shown a special contempt for public transportation while serving as New Jersey’s governor.
And Christie refuses to sign a bill that would hike the state’s gas tax and provide funding to keep the Transportation Trust Fund solvent, despite the fact that the bill has bipartisan support.
Christie has also called himself a “skeptic” about extending light rail in New Jersey, telling David Foster of the Trentonian in June that, “[T]he idea of spending money and resources to extend [the New Jersey Transit River Line] to the Statehouse, I’m not so sure. Use Uber. You can get there.”
That’s right, Christie’s callous response to whether or not New Jersey should expand light rail service was basically, “Just hire a driver.”
And that’s been the Republican response to calls for better, faster and safer public transportation going back to at least Reagan: “Want safe transportation? Buy a safe car. Or, better yet, hire a safe driver. Can’t afford a car? You can take your chances with the rest of the riff-raff on public trains and subways that haven’t been updated since before Reagan.”
But safe transportation shouldn’t just be for the rich, and modern infrastructure is the fertile soil in which businesses grow.
For more than 30 years before Reagan took office, our infrastructure was the envy of the world; but now, in the 21st century, in the wealthiest country that has ever existed on this planet, our infrastructure isn’t just embarrassing, it’s outright dangerous!
And that’s because it’s been frozen in time during nearly 40 years of insane “trickle-down” Reaganomics and right-wing efforts to gut the US government, and every tragedy like today’s crash in Hoboken is a stark reminder of how Reagan’s right-wing policies have cost US lives.
Like the crash in Philadelphia last year, this crash was preventable, and we can prevent it from happening again, but to do so, we need to address our nation’s infrastructure and public transportation crises.
We need to rebuild our crumbling bridges and tunnels, we need to expand and modernize our train systems, to make them safer and faster, and we need to ensure that in the 21st century, our cities, roads and railways are built to endure the effects of a rapidly changing climate.
If we want a safe and modern rail system that will save lives and be the envy of the world, we need to reject Reaganism once and for all, and we need a massive government investment to bring US infrastructure into the 21st century.