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By M.E. Singer

Ah, so this is what Yogi Berra meant by quipping, “this is like deja vu all over again.”

When does Congress put down the Orwellian talking points, look straight into the mirror, and feel the epiphany that the entire problem with the delay of installing the Positive Train Control system (PTC) is directly a result of Congress; persistently remains in their lap which they refuse to resolve. However, history does not lie:

1) In 2008, pushed by hysterical members of Congress from California in reaction to a head-on collision between an LA Metrolink commuter and Union Pacific freight at Chatsworth, CA, that killed 25 passengers, an unfunded mandate was quickly legislated by Congress demanding all railroads to enact the nascent PTC. Like the Tonkin Gulf Resolution(1964) passed open-ended with no thoughts how it would be implemented, Congress gave no regard to the details of PTC, including: cost; burden on railroads Capex for infrastructure improvements and equipment acquisition; requisite up front need to secure from the FCC its cooperation on a timely basis for the band widths required; potential problems with sacred Native American Indian tribal lands; and of course, the issue of inter-operability between different railroads. This is an issue, particularly for commuter and passenger trains, as they must traverse different private railroads along their route. Also note this unfunded mandate was passed as the economy was tanking.

2) Interestingly, as the media is now devoid of transportation experts, and Congress relies almost exclusively on the “expert advice” of lobbyists crammed into their “smoke-filled rooms” to push their one dimensional agenda, nobody has ever bothered (except in my past writings) to look at the parallels here. Doing so would force an understanding how grossly biased against the railroads the federal government has historically been. For example:

3) After a mid-air collision over the Grand Canyon in 1956, Congress swiftly mandated the public treasury to build and maintain the Air Traffic Control system (ATC) for the FAA. Again, after another mid-air collision over Queens, NY in 1960, Congress did not hesitate to increase funding to the FAA to further enhance ATC. So, hundreds are killed in two mid-air collisions, and Congress jumps to open its purse strings–for the benefit of the privately-owned airlines.

4) This action comes in another parallel–how during this same time, the feds were thoroughly funding the airports, runways, aprons; while also completely funding the interstate highway system for privately-owned autos, buses, and trucks; and even the inland waterway locks for private barges. The impact on the privately-owned railroads was inevitable-the erosion of their freight traffic due to federal funding of competitors impacted these railroads from continuing to maintain their passenger services. The railroads were taxed by every jurisdiction for every building, as well as every mile of rail and tie.

The final under-cutitng of the American passenger train was the coup handed by the feds when the USPO in 1967 removed mail from the trains, giving this profit sector to the airlines and trucks. Carrying those RPOs and bulk mail cars often provided the difference between covering a train’s costs-crews, dining, lounge, sleeping, parlor cars, depot/ticket and baggage agents, commissaries, etc, and operating at a deficit; requiring freight to cross-subsidize. Concomitantly, the feds also made it quite easy for the airlines to take their subsidies and move into the short haul market; thus, destroying the very beneficial network of regional passenger trains linking towns and villages to the end point cities.

5) In respect to these historical facts, and how Congress has interfered in the private transportation sector by picking winners and losers, it is now incumbent upon Congress to fix this problem they created. This fix can only be achieved by Congress immediately funding all PTC installation; reimbursing all railroads for prior installation not funded.

If anybody disagrees, just remember that the rush now in Congress to turnover the tax-paid Air Traffic Control system to a private operation, controlled by the airlines themselves, has heard the lobbyists and does not even intend to charge General Aviation for its use.

For Congress, this has become Orwell meets Pork.