Every time the train derails, my mother begs me to stay put. But how can I?
Along the densely populated eastern seaboard, your life is structured around transport. Not everyone can live in New York City or Washington D.C., so millions of people who work there commute in. The car traffic qualifies as its own hell, so many take the rail.
Joe Biden famously commuted on a train from Delaware to D.C. These days, I less famously commute from Maryland to D.C. So when Donald Trump announced an ambitious $1.1 trillion infrastructure plan, I was actually excited.
You see, American infrastructure isn’t so great. We have the world’s biggest economy, but our transit systems rank behind 10 other countries, according to the Global Competitiveness Index. Our trains are tied with Malaysia’s.
As a commuter, these statistics aren’t surprising.
New York, a global financial capital, boasts an intensely convoluted transportation system, where the subway stalls and overcrowds and overheats amidst the press of 4.3 million daily commuters. The stations leak so badly you could say many have permanent waterfall features.
The D.C. metro? It catches on fire. No, really. It does.
The derailments along the lines connecting neighboring states to New York are an even deadlier inconvenience. In 2015, 237 people were killed from Amtrak rail incidents alone, according to the Infrastructure Report Card.
That’s nearly double the number — 136 — who died in airline crashes. And nearly 1,000 more were injured.
As someone whose livelihood is intimately tied to accessing a city, transportation is important to me. So I was a bit let down (if vastly unsurprised) when Trump’s campaign promise didn’t pan out.
First, the numbers kept changing. Was it $1 trillion? Or $500 billion? Or $200 billion, mostly in tax breaks for businesses?
Well, he figured out his math eventually — his budget proposal actually cuts $2.4 billion from the Department of Transportation.
The money needed to fix the Metro-North line? Gone. That’s a pretty callous way for Trump to treat his home state.
But it’s also cruel to Trump’s supporters in places like Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana — rail-poor places sometimes jeered as “flyover country.”
Indeed, most of Trump’s proposed transportation cuts come out of railway systems that those states use, too. Trains through the Midwest already run late half the time, yet all 15 long-distance Amtrak lines get the axe in Trump’s budget.
Right now, 23 states are only serviced with long-distance trains, a figure that breaks neatly into 220 communities and 140 million people. That service is at risk — and so are thousands of jobs for the people who work the trains.
And who knows how many jobs might be lost by commuters? Already, delays along the Northeast lines cost the area $500 million a year when people can’t get to work.
Beyond the economic impacts are the long-term consequences that could arise from a less connected country. Historically, rail expansion didn’t just connect heartland areas to coastal cities — it allowed the agricultural industry to really take root, a fact of huge cultural as well as economic importance.
Protesters rallying from Denver to Cincinnati decided, no thank you, we want our trains. And Congress paid attention, kind of — it’s decided to keep the status quo for now. But that status quo was enough for Trump to decide that a $1.1 trillion transfusion was necessary to fix it. So where’s the plan?
Meanwhile, as I wait each day on D.C.’s often-late subway, I can’t help but think the people in “flyover country” are missing the same thing.
OtherWords commentaries are free to re-publish in print and online — all it takes is a simple attribution to OtherWords.org. To get a roundup of our work each Wednesday, sign up for our free weekly newsletter here.