WASHINGTON – More than $826 million will become available to transit systems in the U.S. this year for modernizing and repairing vehicles, the Department of Transportation announced Feb. 6.
“An American economy that’s built to last must be built on a solid foundation, and when we have buses, transit facilities, and other equipment that’s in disrepair, we simply cannot afford to ignore them,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.
The recipients of these funds will be announced in July, LaHood said.
Heroism has no timetable, no expectation, no formula. It is displayed instantaneously and accompanied only by rare courage.
Enter, center stage, two UTU heroes – Amtrak conductors Richard d’Alessandro and Loxie Sanders – a couple of regular rails, represented by the UTU and seemingly little different than neighbors down the street.
Richard d’Alessandro with Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo
Their time of extreme selfless bravery came the night of June 24, when a tractor-trailer, traveling at high-speed, plowed directly into Amtrak’s westbound California Zephyr near Lovelock, Nev.
The crunch of steel meeting steel at a highway-rail grade crossing is gut wrenching; the derailing of rail passenger cars, unnerving; the sudden and rapid spread of all-consuming fire, deadly; and the presence of thick smoke, terrifying.
It was at that moment that d’Alessandro and Sanders became heroes. Nobody nominated them. Nobody asked them. Nobody expected it of them. Such is heroism.
With passengers disoriented, injured and frightened — many seemingly hopelessly trapped in two burning passenger cars – d’Alessandro and Sanders demonstrated why highly trained passenger-train conductors are essential for passenger and train safety.
d’Alessandro, initially knocked unconscious by the horrendous collision, awoke to find he was lying outside his passenger car on the ground, an arm broken and finger missing. In complete disregard for his own life, and ignoring his painful injuries, d’Alessandro climbed back into the flaming cars in search of disoriented and injured passengers. First one, then another, and still another, he led and assisted them to safety through emergency exit windows and into waiting arms on the ground.
Only when the two no longer could hear voices or find additional passengers did they take leave of the burning passenger cars.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood with Loxie Sanders
Then Sanders, suffering smoke inhalation and a severely burned hand, remembered conductor Laurette Lee. Where was she? Once again, he climbed back into the mouth of burning and smoke-filled hell. Finding her dead beneath a metal door, Sanders lifted her body and carried it outside and away from the inferno.
Among the first to visit d’Alessandro and Sanders in the hospital following the accident was Amtrak President Joseph Boardman, who had taken the first available flight from Washington, D.C., to be at the scene of this horrific accident that claimed six lives and would have claimed many more had it not been for the selfless actions of d’Alessandro and Sanders.
On Nov. 3, d’Alessandro (UTU Local 166, Salt Lake City) and Sanders (UTU Local 1525, Carbondale, Ill.) were formally recognized in Washington, D.C., by the U.S. Department of Transportation for heroism. In presenting the awards, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood cited both for saving lives “that went above and beyond the call of duty.”
And what did these two still humble heroes have to say after receiving the awards? They credited their classroom training, exercises and structured debriefings required under 49 CFR Part 238 as giving them the knowledge and tools.
Heroism, of course, can’t be legislated or regulated. Heroism comes from the heart and soul, and will long be remembered by dozens alive today only because when tragedy struck, well-trained and dedicated Amtrak conductors d’Alessandro and Sanders were present.
For more information on this accident, click on the following links:
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is pushing for a six-year, $53 billion investment in high-speed, higher-speed and expanded passenger rail service, but a fight is brewing with congressional Republicans.
An initial $8 billion in funding for these rail projects is expected to be included in the president’s fiscal year 2012 budget request that will be transmitted to Congress next week.
Vice President Biden and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood lifted the curtain on the proposal Feb. 8 at a Philadelphia press conference, announcing the Obama administration wants the $53 billion focused on three areas of development:
Core express that will develop electrified high-speed trains operating between 125 and 250 mph on dedicated track reserved for these trains.
Regional trains that will operate between 90 and 125 mph.
Emerging rail where trains will operate up to 90 mph — intended to expand rail service to regions of the nation not currently served.
No specifics were provided.
Said Biden: “As a longtime Amtrak rider and advocate, I understand the need to invest in a modern rail system that will help connect communities, reduce congestion and create quality, skilled manufacturing jobs that cannot be outsourced.”
Republican leaders were quick to respond — and not positively. Congressional approval of the Obama administration rail plan must begin with the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
The committee’s chairman, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), and the chairman of the Rail Subcommittee, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), called the administration’s rail plan equivalent to “giving Bernie Madoff another chance at handling your investment portfolio.” Madoff is serving a 150-year jail term, having been convicted of what was called the largest investor fraud in U.S. history.
Mica and Shuster criticized the Obama administration’s rail policies, alleging “the Federal Railroad Administration is neither a capable grant agency, nor should it be involved in the selection of projects.”
They said that what the Obama administration so far has “touted as high-speed rail ended up as embarrassing snail-speed trains to nowhere.”
Mica said he would prefer federal money to be spent on the federally owned Northeast Corridor, operated by Amtrak, which he called “the most congested corridor in the nation.” The Northeast Corridor connects Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York and Boston.
Federal spending on passenger-rail projects, some of which will benefit freight railroads, is part of a broad jobs-creation initiative of the Obama administration. In his State of the Union message in January, Obama spoke of providing high-speed rail access to 80 percent of Americans within 25 years.
During 2010, the administration, through the Federal Railroad Administration, awarded $10.5 billion in federal grants to 15 state for rail projects. Two of the states — Ohio and Wisconsin, both with Republican governors — rejected the federal money, saying their states couldn’t afford to pay for the bulk of the projects’ costs and the expected future operating subsidies.
Included in the $10.5 billion grants in 2010 was $2.3 billion toward a $40 billion, 800-mile California high-speed rail project intended to link Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego; and $1.25 billion toward a $2.3 billion, 84-mile Florida high-speed rail project intended to link Tampa with Orlando (and, eventually, Miami). Mica, from Florida, has not opposed that Florida project outright, but said he wants to see the private sector commit at least $300 million to the project before it moves forward.