And so, with our train and railroad problems, we're getting absurd blame-shifting. For example, even as Republicans have been blocking infrastructure proposals for many years now--to the point where even a top Republican in Congress blames his party for infrastructure problems--and even as Republicans voted to cut Amtrak funding, one day after a deadly train crash, Republican Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie said the cause of railway commuting problems is actually "Amtrak's indifference to New Jersey commuters and its abject neglect of the infrastructure that New Jersey and our entire region relies upon" ("Chris Christie blames Amtrak for 'victimizing' travelers with nightmarish commutes," Reuters, Business Insider, July 24, 2015). Christie also blamed President Obama and Congress, and while the latter is a legitimate gripe, the former is not. For all his faults, Obama has made repeated calls for increased infrastructure investment...only to be repeatedly blocked and ridiculed by Republicans (Republican Congressman Paul Ryan called one of Obama's infrastructure proposals, and the related budget, "envy economics").
Governor Christie seems to ignore his own role in America's crumbling infrastructure. According to New Jersey Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman John Wisniewski, Governor Christie appears to be just as bad on infrastructure as our Republican-led Congress: "[Christie's] piece-meal approach and lack of long-term planning has left our roads and bridges in shambles." The American Society of Civil Engineers reports that 35% of New Jersey's major roads are in poor condition, which seems to back up Wisniewski's claim (although, to be fair, some degree of New Jersey's road problems certainly predate Christie's tenure).
"Being private corporations, they were not eligible for grants, but PWA made loans totaling upward of $200,000,000 to 32 railroads for improvements [about $3.3 billion in 2014 dollars]...The outstanding allotment was the $31,900,000 loan to the Pennsylvania Railroad for completion of electrification of its lines between New York and Washington, and $6,290,000 for purchasing electric locomotives, bringing the two cities 1 hour closer to each other. On many another railroad, the Diesel-powered, lightweight streamlined trains, such as the Rebel of the Gulf, Mobile & Northern Railroad in the South, and the Flying Yankee in New England, that daily flash thousands of people from city to city, are the results of PWA loans. Still other railroads used PWA funds to iron 'kinks' out of roadbeds [and] improve rights-of-way. These allotments, made in the early days of PWA, enabled the railroads, normally one of the Nation's great employers, to recall many men to their jobs. In July 1934 nearly 70,000 men were working in on-the-site employment in work financed by PWA railroad loans." (From: Public Works Administration, America Builds: A Record of PWA, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1939, p. 189)
New Deal policymakers also used programs like the WPA and the Public Roads Administration for public work projects that included removing old tracks, eliminating dangerous grade crossings (with bridges, tunnels, and re-locations), and adding safety signals to other crossings.
Today, roadbeds that are in poor condition are a risk factor for train derailments. As a roadbed subsides or deteriorates underneath a section of track, the track will dip and bend as trains repeatedly go over it. The resulting metal fatigue can lead to a break. Perhaps this would be an excellent area for increased federal funding, as well as a source of jobs for some of the 21 million Americans who would like a full-time job but can't find one (for example, a new WPA).
Our trains and railroads need a New Deal - not perpetual under-funding and not deceitful criticism.
(Above: An excellent short documentary about the beginning, deterioration, and restoration of the "Flying Yankee." The "Flying Yankee" was made possible with PWA funding. Original YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muH7bSf5lo8.)