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The Safety of Amtrak

The recent article “Planes, Trains, and Chinatown Buses” [Oct. 4] claims that “doubts about safety” have plagued Amtrak’s Acela service. However, nothing could be further from the truth. In spite of recent budgetary problems and mechanical glitches with new equipment, Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor remains by far the safest mode of transportation between Boston and New York. Ever since the fatal 1987 collision at Gunpowder River, Maryland, all Northeast Corridor trains -- Amtrak, commuter, and freight -- have been equipped with an Automatic Train Control system which immediately applies the brakes if any train attempts to pass a restrictive signal.

This system eliminates operator error as a possible cause of high speed collisions and provides a level of safety not available with highways or aviation. As a result, Amtrak has provided over 20 billion passenger-miles of travel on the Northeast Corridor since 1987 without a single passenger fatality. In contrast, one would expect about 15 fatalities over the same distance if traveling by air shuttle, and about 300 fatalities if traveling by car.

The article is also mistaken in its claims that “Congress is pressuring new Amtrak president David Gunn to make the service profitable.” To the contrary, recent bills suggest that Congress is finally beginning to realize that inter-city rail, like highways and airports, requires significant government subsidies in order to remain economically viable. If the Northeast Corridor ever receives its fair share of capital funding, it could be faster than the air shuttle and almost as cheap as the bus.

Although Amtrak’s current “low fare” Acela Regional service ($54 w/Student Advantage or $58 w/AAA card) is slightly slower than the air shuttle door-to-door and somewhat more expensive than Greyhound, I personally prefer it because it provides something that neither the air shuttle nor the bus can deliver: productive time. It is virtually impossible to work on a problem set while sitting on the tarmac at Logan or crammed into a Greyhound seat, but on Amtrak it’s no problem. However, since the MIT workload is so light, I am sure that this is not a consideration for most students.

Michael Anderson G

[LTE]Keep Sanctions Against Iraq[body]
Janis Sermulins contends in last Friday’s column [“Unreasonable Sanctions”] that Iraq is not a threat to civilians in America. On this point she is right, but I believe she misunderstands the situation and the people of Iraq.
I have become convinced that Saddam Hussein is a problem to global security. Saddam Hussein sees himself as the first in a long line of pan-Arabian rulers. If sanctions are lifted, Saddam’s regime will see a large influx of money. He will use these to build the only weapons capable of countering the American military. With America out of the way, he will quickly resume the task of creating his Arabian empire. The consequences would be dire. Imagine if the USSR had had over half of the proven oil reserves in the world.
The question faced by the U.S. government is not “should we fight,” but rather “when should we fight.”
Shawn Tsosie ’03[sig]