May 5th, 2014

buddha

Bridge & Tunnel

If you were to look at the recent New York City F-trail subway derailment as a stand-alone incident, I wouldn’t hold it against you. Especially since news has just come out that it wasn’t due to the age of the tracks, but a faulty rail supplied by a manufacturer. But let’s examine this for a second. The MTA was quick to point out that it wasn’t the age of the tracks that caused the issue, but their manufacture. So the MTA is saying it’s not that the tracks were old and poorly maintained, but the derailment was from something brand new and yet still defective. And this is supposed to allay our fears? Or it could be the MTA is saying that the derailment, you know, is not their fault. Well, except for the fact that the MTA was the entity who bought defective track steel in the first place and didn’t discover this until it nearly killed a train full of people. So there’s that.

I could point a finger at this derailment as evidence of something really, really, really heinously wrong with the maintenance of our transportation infrastructure in the United States, and you might say, well, the derailment was just one incident. You cannot show a trend from one event. You’re right. I can’t.

But what about this recent report that says one in ten bridges in the U.S. are in urgent need of repair? Well, someone will fix this problem, right? A team of smart, young American engineers are eager and willing to set things right with our infrastructure. Right? …Right?

Consider that every time you travel over a bridge in the U.S. you have a one in ten chance of this happening:

I-35W-bridge_collapse-Minneapolis-20070801

I blame Paul Wolfowitz

Oh, come on, you say. It’s not really that bad, is it? You’re exaggerating this for rhetorical effect.

Maybe.

You could tell me this recent gas leak in the Bronx that destroyed half a block and killed eight was nothing to worry about. And this monstrous monstrous steam pipe explosion in 2007 was just a fluke event. And this Metro North commuter train derailment that killed four this past winter does not point to any trend. You might tell yourself you have complete faith in the whip-crack smart American ingenuity to find and fix these infrastructure problems before they get worse.  Anyway, you’re not an engineer, so what you do but let the experts do their jobs?

Experts, heh, is that what you call them?

I’ll tell you sincerely, I do not at all trust a system that once gave us this masterpiece in 1910:

A post office would be a much more efficient use of this space.

A post office would be a much more efficient use of this space.

And now takes nine months and several station closings to give us this piece of metal vomit in 2014:

They call it Riker's Island motif.

They call it Riker’s Island motif.

When the MTA is quick to point out, “It wasn’t us!” and punt the blame down the American supply chain, my first reaction is disgust. Think about this: After an almost fatal accident the response of an organization I and my loved ones travel on almost every is to shift blame.  Not, you should note, “It’s our fault we sourced bad materials and we will not be using this company again, and we will be replacing all the portions of track we bought from them.” But instead they say: “We’ll investigate the supplier and recheck the portions of track we bought from them.” So, basically, they are doing nothing. You know, because if it’s not broken now, it probably will be fine in the future.

How many accidents does it take, how many deaths, for us to realize we have a problem in this country? That we have a transportation system that is aging fast, and all the smart and talented folks, the engineers and architects, who might be able to fix these pressing issues are working other, more exciting jobs. If you’re a twenty-one year-old bright young kid who has just graduated with an engineering degree from Carnegie Mellon, are you going to go work for Tesla designing the next electric car for a six figure salary, or for an under-budgeted municipality fixing century old pipe and steel for teacher’s wages? But hey, we have overseas nation building and a War on Terror to fund, and don’t forget the NSA, and really, things like pipes and bridges and roads are just so 20th century. Let me go check my Facebook page, hey cute cat picture, that looks delicious, like, like, is this my stop yet?

 

 

Originally published at Matthew Kressel. You can comment here or there.