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Tunnel Safety Off the Rails

IN THE RUSH to address new terrorist threats to metro trains, the government should not forget to address all related assets. Two analysts look at one such concern for railways—tunnels. Amtrak has done such a poor job of protecting critical tunnels along its lines that the tunnels should be transferred to an agency "that will provide the competent stewardship that passengers have every right to expect," say Joseph Vranich and Andrew M. Grossman.

In a memo written for the Washington, D.C., think tank The Heritage Foundation, the authors accuse the railroad of three decades of "reckless disregard for public safety by long ignoring the need to upgrade safety measures" in its Manhattan tunnels.

Vranich—a one-time Amtrak spokesperson—and Grossman point out that last year a slow-moving Amtrak train rammed a Long Island Rail Road train, "injuring about 130 commuters and highlighting the sorry state of Amtrak's tunnel infrastructure. It took two hours to move lightly injured commuters to hospitals and more than half a day to restore normal service." Given that state of unreadiness, a terrorist attack would be devastating, the analysts contend.

Work on modernizing and improving safety in the tunnels is underway, they say, largely because of Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta's funding award to Amtrak for that specific purpose, but also due to pressure from the Bush administration.

Amtrak still wastes money on upgrading long distance trains, "which are market irrelevancies," write Vranich and Grossman. "Amtrak's failure to give funding priority to safety on its busiest lines is inexcusable in an age of terrorism."