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Rail Safety Should Come First

Monday, February 7, 2005; Page A20

If we had not suffered two horrendous, preventable railroad accidents in South Carolina and California this year, I would have found amusing the comment by the rail expert that "there are so many thousands of miles of track and it is difficult to protect them from threats without slowing down commerce" ["Accidents Spur New Focus on Securing U.S. Rail System," news story, Jan. 29].

In the Graniteville, S.C., tragedy, the railroad chose to run trains in "dark territory," which means that no signals on the track inform the train of the hazard of the open switch ahead. With a signal, the engineer would have been told that the switch on the track would cause his train to go into the siding, and he would have slowed down. The accident would have been avoided, and the nine people who died still would be with their loved ones.

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Running trains in the dark is the equivalent of flying passenger and cargo planes without radar. Instead of putting in signal systems, the railroads are trying to remove them because they say signals costs too much to maintain. Can you imagine an airline making that argument?

The idea of signals "slowing down commerce" also is laughable: Signals don't slow down trains; they just tell the crew members about track conditions.

Until the Federal Railroad Administration and the Transportation Security Administration get serious about rail safety, we will have more preventable tragedies. Everyone on the trains and near the tracks should ask their representatives: Isn't my safety worth the cost of a signal?

SYDNEY M. SMITH

Alexandria


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