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Underfunding Railroads is a Recipe is a Recipe for Catastrophe

There's an old saying that "the more things change, the more they stay the same." It is easy to cast blame at Metro-North Railroad after a catastrophic event, followed by another and another.
 
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  • <strong>Railroad Accidents are a result of underfunding</strong>

I have yet to hear anyone speak about the underlying cause of many of Metro-North Railroad's safety problems. MONEY.

    FISHKILL, NY, January 08, 2014 /24-7PressRelease/ -- There's an old saying that "the more things change, the more they stay the same." It is easy to cast blame at Metro-North Railroad after a catastrophic event, followed by another and another. Politicians are quick to hold press conferences and the Federal Railroad Administration, under pressure, starts paying attention. However, I have yet to hear anyone speak about the underlying cause of many of Metro-North Railroad's safety problems. MONEY.

A review of the financial data posted at the official website for Metro North's parent agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) revealed the following information. (***I am not an accountant and could be mistaken in my reading of the material). All numbers are in millions.

Year 2009 2010 2011 2012
Total Operating Revenues 6,066 6,419 6,939 7,067
Total Operating Expenses 12,501 12,709 13,710 14,094
Total Operating Loss 6,435 6,290 6,771 6,895

In other words, revenues are only one half of operating expenses. In 2012, there was an MTA net operating loss of just under $6.7 billion.

The MTA Metro-North Railroad February Financial Plan for 2013-2016 indicates projected deficits as follows:
2012 - $684
2013 - 670
2014 - 691
2015 - 721
2016 - 765
So, it is projected that Metro-North had a net operating loss of $670 million in 2013, with that number climbing in the following 3 years. Since there is always pressure not to raise taxes to make up the losses, something has to give. While I am not privy to the specifics, I think it is reasonable to assume that there have been across-the-board cut backs in all areas of the railroad's operations while Metro-North and the MTA have been struggling with their respective budgets.

Safety is going to be compromised when you underfund a railroad. Lack of proper maintenance of the roadbeds and equipment is predictable under the circumstances. The quality of management is also going to continue to suffer with the failure to compensate at a level that will draw top personnel to the railroad. Management sets the tone for the railroad and poor decisions by lower level supervision reflect weaknesses at the top.

The catastrophic events that took place during the last 1 1/2 years at Metro-North Railroad will likely be repeated in spite of the FRA "Deep Dive" initiative. Lack of much needed leadership in Albany and Washington is a major source of the problem. Our country has a $16 trillion deficit and no one wants to add to that generational burden. "Red State" politicians are not likely to risk losing an election by supporting funding of publicly owned railroads in other areas of the country.

Despite this, safety is truly an imperative and if we want to avoid the multitude of injuries and deaths that are otherwise likely, we must find a way to build up our infrastructure, including our rail system. Old fashioned political compromise is required.

Ira Maurer is a founding member of the Academy of Rail Labor Attorneys. The Maurer Law Firm, PLLC represents clients injured in railroad accident, both workers and non-railroad workers. For more information visit http://www.maurerlaw.net or call 845-440-1172



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