My heartfelt prayers go out to all those who have lost loved ones or have been injured as a result of this week's train derailment outside 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. Three weeks ago, I took Amtrak from Washington, D.C., to New York City. That trip was far from my first, and it certainly won't be my last.
But as we mourn this devastating incident, we should be asking ourselves one critical question: How can we ensure that this will never happen again?
The answer is simple: Our elected leaders need to make a greater investment in rail infrastructure, rail safety, and our nation's infrastructure overall.
The American Society of Civil Engineer's 2013 Infrastructure Report Card graded America's infrastructure at a D+ and our rail system at a C+. As the world's largest economy, you would think that we would have the smarts to make wiser investments in our infrastructure. But sadly, our elected leaders are more concerned about scoring cheap political points at the expense of their constituents.
This has resulted in delayed funding and devastating cuts to infrastructure investment and demonstrates to the American people that our elected officials lack the vision and gravitas to fulfill the United States' promise to become a thriving 21st-century "shining city upon a hill."
Looking around the world, you will see every other developed nation spending a considerable amount of their GDP on infrastructure enhancement. Here in the U.S., total spending on transportation and water infrastructure has fallen steadily since the 1960s and now stands at 2.4 percent of GDP. Europe, by comparison, invests 5 percent of GDP in its infrastructure, while China is racing into the future at 9 percent.
If America truly wants to compete and maintain its position as the world's leading superpower, we must be bold, proactive and do the right thing on infrastructure spending.
Many in the media have lambasted progressive leaders for utilizing this incident to call for greater transit investment. And to those colleagues, I say: You are flat-out wrong.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, our elected leaders memorialized the lives lost by ensuring that such an attack won't ever happen again. Congress passed sweeping legislation to beef up airport security and counterintelligence, and they even voted to create a new cabinet-level agency, the Department of Homeland Security.
Many disagreed with those moves, but we can now honestly say that our nation is quite a bit safer.
If we truly want to memorialize the lives lost during the derailment, let's make the bold decision to transform our transportation system into something that Americans can be proud of. If we do that, the residual impacts will be much more than just safer transit to and from work and play. A real 21st-century American transportation system will stimulate our economy, revitalize our local communities, and allow our country to maintain its role as the "shining city upon a hill" that John Winthrop first envisioned in 1630.
Richard Fowler is the youngest syndicated progressive and/or African-American radio host in the United States.
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