Saturday, July 6, 2013

More Cogent than I

While still an undercurrent in urbanist media, people are starting to take note of our fundamentally broken approach to passenger rail safety. This item from the usually-libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute, for example, hits the nail on the head. It's extremely short, only seven pages, and describes more cogently and Steve Smith, or Alon Levy, or I, the challenges facing American rail transportation professionals.

The problem remains that this remains an issue that is unknown, and hence unremarked-on, by most people outside the profession and geeks whose interests tend that way. It also doesn't help that, as Business Insider points out, politics get in the way. This is an ongoing problem with land-use issues: it is very difficult for technocrats to reevaluate and rebuild fundamentally broken regulations when they are opposed by people who know those regulations are broken, and fundamentally just don't care, who would rather leave them in place to laugh at them and say they should be repealed outright* and say "this is why government is broken" rather than pitching in, lending a hand, and fixing them.

All that said, I find myself nodding in agreement with Edmonson and Scribner in their recommendation that
[i]f the FRA insists that the operational environment of the Untied States is uniquely dangerous, it should overhaul its regulatory mandates and take a step back from the prescriptive rules currently in place. Instead, it should create a series of performance metrics that would allow train designers to innovate. It now asks, “Does this train fit our rules?” It should ask, “Is this train survivable in a crash?”
This would allow U.S. transit authorities to purchase not only European trains, but also Japanese trains, which are designed to different effective standards. The United States could be a melting pot of train designs from around the world.
It can be done. But do we have the political will to do it?
* Although, with the current FRA regulations, and the (nonexistent) state of our domestic passenger railcar industry, one can actually argue for its dissolution (as Alon Levy has in the past); European and Japanese products, the bulk of the market, have proven safety records our lemons don't.