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Metrolink / BNSF Collision:
Ray Burns' Response to Coverge Criticism

One thing that I want to make emphatically clear up front is that everyone at TrainWeb has always and will always support the rail industry. That means passenger, freight, tourist and private railroads as well as private railcars. We know for a fact that everyone in the rail industry goes out of their way to be as safety conscious as is physically possible. Every individual and rail company not only feels terrible when accidents happen but loses money from late deliveries, loss of customers, law suits, damage repairs, replacement of equipment and so on.

Passenger rail is slowed down waiting for freight rail and freight is slowed down waiting for passenger rail. Neither one wants the other interfering with them. Are they not both right?

Amtrak was formed after the freight industry was allowed to shake loose the bonds that obligated them to service passenger rail. The government then heavily subsidized the building of a comprehensive interstate freeway system under the guise of being necessary for national defense. The U.S. Government wanted to be easily able to move troops, weapons and supplies across the country by truck in times of war just as Germany was able to do using the autobahn during World War II. With the highway infrastructure in place, paid for by tax dollars, the trucking industry almost got a free ride. With the major cost out of the way, the trucking industry experienced tremendous growth. No longer did factories, warehouses and distribution facilities have to be located on railroad sidings.

To exacerbate the problem, the government began to heavily subsidize and promote air travel and air freight as well as continue to heavily subsidize waterways. With all the subsidized competition from freight moving by road, air and water, the freight railroads of this nation came close to full financial collapse. Since new factories and warehouses were no longer even located near railroad tracks, rail was locked out from even competing for this shipping business. It got to the point that our freight industry nearly went belly up. It was that close!

No one will argue the point that our nation has been polluted pretty badly from the emissions caused from petrochemicals. What saved our rail freight industry was the concept of intermodal shipping that could haul single and double stack containers. A truck could haul a container to the nearest railroad yard, the container would then be taken a long distance by rail to another railroad yard, and then the container would be hauled the remainder of its journey by another truck. Thus, the railroad would be used for the long haul section of the transportation with trucks just being used to shuttle the containers the short distances between factories or warehouses to the rail yards. Without the intermodal concept, freight rail may have vanished from the face of this nation.

No one helped the rail freight industry out of this calamity. They had to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps with no help from the government or anyone else. Freight rail built this nation and continues to make our country strong through their grand efforts.

Now, Passenger travel via Amtrak has always been dealt a bad hand. The scraps it has had to subsist on was gross negligence to say the least. The recent president of Amtrak, George Warrington, told our government that Amtrak must either be a "for profit" company or be a social service to the community. The latter meaning that the government would have to accept the fact that passenger rail would need a continuous and adequate source of subsidized funding without an expectation of profits, just like our interstate highway system. Just recently, Amtrak has warned our government that they will have to close just about every long haul passenger route if adequate funding is not provided.

Fortunately, a Senate subcommittee passed a bill that would allocate 4.6 billion dollars for passenger rail every year. This bill still has to go before the full Senate, the House of Representatives and then signed by the President. It will be an uphill battle and faces a lot of resistance, but it does have strong support in the Senate. If this bill, or any reasonably similar bill is passed, then Amtrak can be saved from bankruptcy and begin to build a national passenger rail system that will truly satisfy the rail transportation needs of our nation.

When Steve Grande and I write stories and take pictures, we always do it with the rail industry in mind. We also do it in regards to the individuality of the people associated with it, whether they are an employee or a passenger. This relates to train travel, rail industry and accidents.

Last week the Amtrak Auto Train had a bad accident in Florida. Yesterday, a Los Angeles Metrolink and a BNSF freight train had one as well. Steve Grande was an actual eyewitness to the accident and wrote his story of his experience and took a few pictures as well. I took about 80% of the photos at that accident for TrainWeb. When I took those pictures I saw an opportunity for the American people to use what we produced to help to advocate a fuller and safer national passenger and freight rail system.

I always use the zoom feature of my camera. I did not, nor ever have, stuck my camera in anyone's face to take pictures. Neither have I taken any "gory" pictures. I could have easily done so but opted not to. However, I want to send a clear message. It isn't just that two trains collided with each other; there is a human factor also. I don't feel that just stating the number of injuries and fatalities is adequate. It doesn't give you a real feel for the people involved; their misery, suffering, hurt and shock. There are real people affected by an accident like this and you can't understand what that is like by just reading the summary of the number of injuries and fatalities.

We only hope by giving web visitors a more personal understanding of the devastation caused by incidents like this and hopefully it will energize them to demand a better and safer rail infrastructure from our government. What exactly do I mean by that? I believe the government should at least double track most of this nation and provide standards where trains will only run in one direction on each track for the most part. That will almost eliminate the possibility of head-on collisions. Where possible, an additional set of double tracks should be built so that passenger and freight trains can each run on their own sets of tracks and rarely have to intermix. This would allow passenger trains to operate at maximum speed. Without freight and passenger trains having to constantly pull into sidings to wait to pass each other, both can keep on schedule and provide better service to passengers and customers.

With the photographs that I took at the scene of the Metrolink / BNSF collision, I wanted visitors to our web pages to see people working together helping each other during this tragedy. I wanted visitors to our pages to see how the emergency crews from many different communities came together to help the people in need. You can also see how passengers came to the aid of each other, even those that were total strangers. Just like in the New York September 11 disaster, people came to help those afflicted. No one got upset with the photos that were taken of 9-11. Instead, people across the nation could empathize with those they saw suffering at the scene. People provided support with contributions and by rallying together as one nation to make this a safer world. In a similar manner, I am hoping that these photos will bring attention to the inadequacy of the rail infrastructure in America and that people will demand improvement of this situation for the benefit of both rail passengers and the movement of freight by rail.

Please contact your local, state and national representatives to encourage them to enact legislation to improve the rail infrastructure in this nation and to provide better passenger rail transportation service. Those that have vented their anger towards TrainWeb over our coverage of this incidence could be a lot more productive by instead focusing their energies toward their representatives to improve rail safety, service and the infrastructure.

Click here to view TrainWeb's coverage of the Metrolink / BNSF collision.

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