Is U.S. Train Travel Safe?
The fatal derailment of an Amtrak train in Philadelphia Tuesday evening raises serious concerns about the safety of U.S. train travel. As I write this, it's been determined that the train was traveling at more than 100 mph (twice its speed limit). At least seven people were killed and more than 200 injured.
Compounding the seriousness of Tuesday's crash is the fact that there have been several similar disasters involving Amtrak, freight trains, and commuter rail lines in the U.S. recently:
On Wednesday, a public transit bus collided with a CSX freight train in Atlanta.
Earlier this month, an Amtrak train headed to New Orleans from Chicago collided with a truck that had stalled on the tracks in Amite, Louisiana, killing the driver and injuring several passengers.
The commuter rail line that I ride into Manhattan, the MTA Metro North Hudson line, suffered a fatal derailment in the Bronx in 2013. The Metro North Harlem line was the scene of a fatal crash involving an SUV struck by a northbound train in Mt. Kisco, NY, this past February.
Like everyone, we have questions about the safety of America's railroad infrastructure and the enforcement of best practices such as speed limits. We understand that repairing and replacing infrastructure is a massive, multi-year undertaking. We believe a review of best practices, hiring, and training at Amtrak and at commuter rail lines is likely to follow this latest crash.
In the very near term, we are asking the same question raised by former U.S. transportation secretary Ray LaHood, who rides Amtrak's Northeast Corridor often. LaHood served from 2009 to 2013 and has asked whether seat belts on trains will help keep passengers safe in the event of a crash. (The Associated Press has noted that a study by Britain's Rail Safety and Standards Board recommended against seat belts, having concluded that seat belts would not reduce the number of serious injuries.)
Of course we love train travel and we love the options Amtrak provides U.S. travelers who want to explore their country car-free. We also applaud the growth of commuter rail, light rail, and subway and bus systems as affordable, eco-friendly, and convenient ways of navigating our urban areas. But our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by the Philadelphia crash, and we look forward to seeing concrete actions taken to ensure the safety of train travel in the U.S.
Do Some Airlines Discriminate Against Passengers With Special Needs?
ABC News reports that an Oregon woman believes her family of four was kicked off a flight by United Airlines because her 15-year-old daughter has autism. A variety of accounts confirm that the family asked the flight staff for special consideration for their daughter's food preferences, noting that the girl, who has trouble communicating, would have a "meltdown" if she was not provided with a hot meal. After initial resistance from a flight attendant, the girl was served rice with jambalaya and she traveled quietly and did not disturb her fellow passengers. Reports also confirm that after the girl's needs had been met, the plane made an unexpected landing and the captain requested the assistance of medics and police in removing the girl and her family from the flight. The family has filed a complaint with the Department of Transportation. But for those of us who've traveled with babies; toddlers; children and adults with sensory integration issues such as autism or behavioral challenges such as attention deficit and hyperactivity; and older adults with physical, emotional, and cognitive challenges, this incident literally hit home. Do some airlines discriminate against passengers with special needs? United Airlines makes a solid commitment to travelers with special needs on its website, as do all the major carriers. And at least one U.S. airport has gone the extra mile to help prepare autistic kids for travel: We applaud the Boston Logan airport for holding Wings for Autism events that allow families with autistic children to get to know the airport and the travel process, from entering the airport to check-in, security, and boarding. It's a great way for the kids to get more comfortable with the experience, and also helps travel professionals become more aware of the challenges faced by children with special needs. We only wish the program would be adopted by more airports! We want to know: Have you experienced discrimination on the basis of special needs when flying?
Outrageous Driver Confessions! Cursing, Speeding, and Other Bad Behavior
Raise your hand if you've ever been behind the wheel and deliberately cut someone off, muttered a curse word under your breath, leaned on the gas pedal a wee bit too hard, or, worse, had any of the above directed at you. That would be all of us, right? I personally will never forget one particular incident while I was tooling around Palm Springs in my rental car on vacation: Evidently the "no right turn on red" rule doesn't apply in California if you make a full stop first, which this New Yorker quickly learned after waiting patiently through an entire stoplight, only to have a blue-haired woman around age 70 swerve pointedly around me, honking the entire way, then, for good measure, appeared to scream an expletive at me through her window while flipping me the bird. The foul-mouthed granny is in good company, according to Expedia's new Road Rage Report, released today, in which frighteningly large percentages of American drivers to admit to some jaw-dropping bad behavior. Read on for the dirty details: • 61 percent of respondents admitted to speeding. • 29 percent admitted to following other vehicles too closely. • 26 percent said they have yelled or used profanity at another driver. • 17 percent said they have made a rude gesture, while 53 percent said they have been on the receiving end of one. • 4 percent said they have exited their vehicle to engage angrily with another motorist. • 13 percent have felt physically threatened by another driver. • 25 percent admitted to "regularly or occasionally" talking on their mobile phone while driving. Why? The excuses were myriad, the survey found. Running late was a big one, as was "being provoked by other drivers." Suuuuure you were. If you're prone to road rage, an app like Waze, which guides you around traffic snarls with crowd-sourced info from other drivers, could be your new best friend, as we've suggested in the past. But no tech gadget can compete with the age-old Golden Rule—or a dash of mindfulness before you unleash a string of particularly descriptive nouns and adjectives. The city with the rudest drivers in the nation, according to the Expedia survey? New York City! Maybe I'll pick up a few tips on my next cab ride before I dare motor down the mean streets of Palm Springs again. Would you admit to any of this bad driving behavior out loud? Have you been on the receiving end while on a trip? Or do you have tips for keeping your cool behind the wheel? Let it all out in the comments!
Memorial Day 2015: Bigger (and Cheaper!) Than Last Year
It looks as if millions of American share Budget Travel's love of road trips. AAA Travel is predicting that more than 37 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more this Memorial Day weekend (Thursday May 21 through Monday May 25), the highest volume for the holiday weekend in 10 years, and that 80 percent of them (33 million travelers) will drive to their destinations. AAA points out that the lowest gas prices in five years (the national average is $2.66, a full dollar less than last May) are inspiring a 4.7 percent increase in Memorial Day travel. We'd like to think that America's coolest small towns, one-tank escapes, scenic drives, beautiful cities, national parks, and beautiful beaches have something to do with all that Memorial day travel too. We want to know: Are you getting away for Memorial Day weekend? Are you driving? Where are you headed? And, maybe more importantly, what would be your dream destination for the holiday weekend?
Ready for a Ferry Ride to Cuba?
For those of you who've enjoyed ferry rides to prime destinations like Sausalito, Nantucket, and Mackinac Island, hold on to your hats: The U.S. just approved ferry service between Florida and Cuba. Granting licenses to several cargo and passenger companies, the federal government opened up the possibility of ferry service in the Florida Straits for the first time in more than a half century. The Miami Herald reports that some ferry companies say they may offer service within weeks from ports like Key West, Miami, Port Everglades, and the Tampa area. The Sun Sentinel reports that one company, CubaKat, hopes to offer high-speed catamaran service from the Florida Keys to Havana by December. CubaKat's multimillion dollar craft would transport about 200 people to Havana in approximately for hours for $338 (considerably less than the $500 airfares common at the moment). While there are still plenty of hoops to be jumped through and red tape to be cut (not to mention the fact that Americans are allowed to travel to Cuba only for family visits and educational/professional purposes), the prospect is enticing. Back in the 1950s, ferry travel to and from Cuba was a normal part of many Americans' and Cubans' travel experiences. If you're ready to dive into the "purposeful travel" that is currently permitted to Cuba, you don't have to wait for ferry service to begin. A group tour such as Intrepid Travel's 9-day Hola Cuba People to People package might be right for you. You'll meet real Cubans, including top chefs, local artists, salsa dancers, historians, and tobacco farmers, as you travel from iconic Havana to the countryside. We want to know: Have you visited Cuba? Are you one of the many travel fanatics eagerly researching a future Cuba excursion?
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