The Amtrak Crash and Atlas Shrugged

This week’s tragic derailment of Amtrak Train 188 just north of downtown Philadelphia has everyone in the country wondering just how such a thing could happen.

Who is to blame?

How can we avoid such deadly accidents in the future?

Although all the facts of the crash are still unclear, we know some things for sure:

•  The locomotive and all seven cars jumped the tracks while charging through a turn.

•  The train’s data recorder showed it was traveling faster than 100 mph, nearly double the speed limit for the turn it was making.

•  The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said that the train had sped up from about 70 mph to 100+ mph in the last 65 seconds before the crash.

•  Eight people died and over 200 were injured in the crash.

The horrific incident on this heavily-traveled East Coast route strikes fear into rail commuters all around the country — and for good reason.

What was the cause of the crash? Human error, as many speculate?

Was an aging railway infrastructure system responsible?

Did the train’s braking technology fail, and if so, what other trains are at risk for a similar incident?

***

I’m sure the complete facts of this case will all come out in due time, but my immediate reaction was less about the details and more about a book I first read many years ago.

That book is Ayn Rand’s seminal novel, Atlas Shrugged.

The novel (which I highly recommend) is a story of what happens when men of genius, ability and productive virtue — men who actually move the world and who are responsible for all great achievement — decide to go “on strike” and remove themselves from a world that condemns, punishes and usurps their genius.

One of the novel’s most compelling and philosophically important scenes involves a train disaster — one that is not merely caused by a conductor or engineer’s mistake, but by a willful evasion of reality by a bureaucrat.

The “Taggart Comet” as the train is named, is a diesel-powered engine that breaks down on a trek through the Colorado Rockies. No replacement diesel engines are available and the only engine nearby is a coal burner.

The only problem here is that a coal-burning engine is not safe for passage through a lengthy tunnel section. The tunnel’s ventilation system wasn’t designed to handle the smoke emitted by a coal-burner.

This inconvenient fact, however, doesn’t concern a prominent politician on board the Comet. Rather than respect the dictates of reality and wait for a diesel engine, the politician orders railroad employees to hook up a coal-burning engine to take the train through the tunnel.

The result is the train stalls mid-tunnel, suffocating the passengers and the crew.

Then, an Army munitions train, unaware of the Comet’s fate, barrels into the tunnel and crashes into the stalled train, detonating the armaments and causing the entire mountain to collapse from the resulting explosion.

Now, the key point of the train scene in Atlas Shrugged is to illustrate how the willful rejection of reason by those who think the rules of reality don’t apply to them can cause tragedy for everyone.

Sadly, I see this kind of thing happening in the world today on numerous fronts affecting us all.

For example …

•  Do we really believe that we can get ourselves out of an economic crisis caused by too much debt, by creating even more debt?

•  Do we believe the answer to stimulating real economic growth is to debase the U.S. dollar?

•  Do we believe that we can make the world more peaceful and prosperous by the constant projection of vast military power to nearly every corner of the globe?

Are not these incidents of willful evasions of reality stem from those in power?

The lesson of the train scene in Atlas Shrugged is one we all know to some degree in our own lives.

In fact, right now you may be thinking of a situation in your life where someone you know made a decision that effectively ignored reality and reason, simply because the party at hand just wanted reality to be their way.

Or maybe that person making those decisions was you …

Think about it: Have you ever made an important decision that you now regret based on how you “wanted” reality to be — and not how reality actually was?

In the case of Amtrak Train 188, the reality of physics dictated that the train could not successfully make that now-infamous turn at such a high rate of speed.

Philosopher Francis Bacon once wrote, “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.”

This is true for us all, and in all realms of human action including politics, economics, ethics — and of course, when dealing with nature’s physical forces.

The Amtrak crash, the legacy of Atlas Shrugged, and the decisions we observe and make in our own lives confirm Bacon’s principle each day.

The greater our awareness of reason, reality and the absolute need to obey nature — the better decisions we are likely to make.

***

Where do you see the willful rejection of reason and reality? I know I’ve only touched on this topic here, but I suspect you’ve seen decisions that fly in the face of reality.

If you’d like to share an anecdote about how such a decision affected your life, please send them my way.

You can leave a comment on our website or send me an e-mail.

***

Industrial output dropped 0.3% in April; in line with expectations, but downward revisions showed output in factories, mines and utilities dropping for the past five months. That’s the longest string of declines since the Great Recession. Here are some other headlines today as we close out this week:

•  All three major U.S. indices traded near break-even, with the S&P 500 hovering near Thursday’s all-time high.

•  Oil prices fell Friday, putting the brakes on the ninth straight weekly gain for crude oil.

•  The House passed a $612 billion-plus bill to fund the military in fiscal 2016. The vote was 269 to 151, with mostly Democrats in opposition.

•  Consumer sentiment hit a seven-month low, as the University of Michigan’s consumer-sentiment index fell to a preliminary May reading of 88.6, compared with a final April level of 95.9. Consensus estimates were for a reading of 94.5.

•  Shares of Netflix (NFLX) spiked higher after reports the entertainment-streaming service is in talks with a Chinese media company to enter China’s online-video market.

•  Gold held most of Thursday’s gain to end near $1,225.

Good Luck and Happy Investing,

Brad Hoppmann

Publisher

Uncommon Wisdom Daily

Your thoughts on “The Amtrak Crash and Atlas Shrugged”

  1. Again Brad, I liked Atlas Shrugged the first time I read it more than 25 years ago, I liked it again each time i read it and now planning to read it again a 4th time. It is SO much about the power of the individual mind .. NOT the Wesley Mouch only Governement Committee mindless-ness can “care about the people with words and not understand how any and every part of the real world works ..I’m often reminded of that book Island by Aldous Huxley .. . where every “boss” or supervisor must actually do the actual work for a month each year to stay in touch with the way it is (work is NOW done) .. so supervision is kept current ..not something one learned a long time ago …I once took a job driving 18-wheelers cross country .. just to see what it was like being both a co-driver and subsequently a solo-driver .. and primarily to experience how and what is involved in moving goods from the fields and factories to both wholesale and retail establishments for purchase and take home by retail consumers .. my favorite 18-Wheeler work was co-driving for Van Halen from Spokane to Boulder in January .. there were 4-drivers, for 3 semi’s for 2 guitar players, ’cause the gig-booking guys didn’t take into account what if there is heavy snow in January in the Rockies .. the artists were planning to fly .. but heavy snows meant that they had to find buses and eventually follow us on the road to Boulder .. don’t let up .. many of us will survive all that Earth presents to us, and regardless which warning we take and take to heart .. as we progress … ~ Clark

  2. OBAMA CAME IN TO TAKE OVER HOUSING (40% OF THE ECONOMY) AND HE CALLED ALL MORTGAGE PEOPLE CRIMINALS, EVEN THOUGH EVERY HAS A MORTGAGE IN THE NATION AND MAYBE 2% WERE CRIMINALS LIKE IN EVERY BIZ————–OBAMA THE HITLER SAID WE CAUSED ALL THE PROBLEMS ——–MEANWHILE HE WAS FIRING 300,000 A WEEK, 1.2 MILLION A MONTH

    1.2 MILLION FIRED EVERY MONTH FOR 7 YEARS ————–100 MILLION JOBLESS, YOU LOSE YOUR JOB YOU LOSE YOUR HOUSE ———-PERIOD………………

    BUT OBAMA AND HIS HITLER ASS COVERING DEMOCRAT OPERATIVE MEDIA LIED TO US AND GOOD…….

    AND HERE WE ARE WITH ONE THIRD OF OUR WORKERS JOBLESS…………..

    100 MILLION JOBLESS IS WHY WE HAD A FORECLOSURE PROBLEM

    BUSH GAVE US 4.2% UNEMPLOYMENT IN 2006

    AFTER TWO OF THE WORST DISASTERS TO EVER HIT AMERICAN SOIL

    DEMOCRAT MEDIA LEAVE THAT STORY OUT TOO

    OH MY HAVE OUR DEMOCXRATS HELPED OBAMA FUK US
    THEN THE DEMOCRATS, THE OBAMA DEMOCRATS TOOK TOTAL CONTROL OF OUR LAWS AND FINANCES ON JANUARY 2007

    ”””””’TWO FULL YEARS BEFORE THE CRASH THESE BOYS WERE GUTTING JOBS!!!!!!!!!

    NOT ONLY DID OBAMA CLOSE ALL THE PRIVATE MORTGAGE COMPANIES AND TAKE TOTAL CONTROL

    HE SAID WE WERE SO EVIL WE COULDN’T EVEN PUT MORTGAGE EXPERIENCE ON OUR RESUMES

    FUKED THIS 30 YEAR MORTGAGE PROFESSIONAL AND FUKED HER HARD

    HE FIRED 385 COMPANIES AND 1 MILLION WORKERS RIGHT OFF

    AT THE SAME TIME HE DID A MUSLIM OUTREACH SPEECH AND FIRED 1.1 MILLION NASA WORKERS

    GIFTING THE PROGRAM TO HIS TESLA ROCKET BOYS

    HE WAS SO GOOD AT SELLING THE DEMISE OF HOUSING AS ””””””WE WERE THE CRIMINALS………………”””””’

    BUT NOW HE IS SELLING THAT ”””ALL COPS ARE RACIST AND BAD”””””””

    SEE HOW IT WORKS FOR A COMMIE

    OBAMA TOLD THE WORLD THAT ””””’WE WERE ‘ALL’ BAD AND EVERYONE BELIEVED HIM WITH NO FACTS

    (CLINTON DID GLASS STEAGALL, HE REALLY GUTTED US)

    BUT OBAMA OWNS HOUSING NOW
    GUTTING THE REST OF THE BANKS THAT ARE LEFT

    BUT OBAMA HAS MOVED ON WITH HIS HATE
    NOW COPS ARE EVIL, HEALTH INSURANCE COMPANIES ‘ALSO SOLD SUBPRIME’ POLICIES TO EVERYONE

    HEHEHEHEHE, SEE

    THAT IS WHY I WAS NEVER BITTER

    I KNOW MY HISTORY
    I KNEW WE WERE JUST THE FIRST

    NOW THERE ARE 100 MILLION JOBLESS
    AND NO OUTRAGE AND NO MEDIA

    OBAMA IS NOW GOING TO MAKE THE DOCTORS EVIL
    AND STILL BE KILLING COPS…….

    I KNEW DAMN WELL IN 2007 THAT I WAS JUST FIRST…………….

    WATCHED IT ALL BURN DOWN IN MY FACE
    AND HE IS STILL DESTROYING US

    CATHERINE
    NAVY VIETNAM ERA VETERAN

  3. California Bullet Train not even counting operating costs, just paying for the infrastructure over 30 years. Operating a train every 30 minutes 18 hours a day, 365 days a year.
    Total Cost $100,000,000,000.00
    Years To Ammortize 30
    Cost Per Year $3,333,333,333.33
    Cost Per Day $9,132,420.09
    Trains Per Day 36
    Max Riders Per Train 200
    Cost Per Ticket $1,268.39

    Or to get the ticket cost of one-way from LA to SF to $200, which is much higher than South West airlines. This would require 228 trains per day, or a train getting to the station and unloading 200 people and putting a new set of 200 into the train every 4.73 minutes. Why are all of these people traveling between LA and SF is beyond me and certainly not what the airlines see. If this is the demand then I want in on the car rental business at the train depot. Let me add that we use web meetings for groups a mile away to eliminate travel time, so are they expecting this to reverse and for business men to jump on trains? Someone loves the 1800s.
    Total Cost $100,000,000,000.00
    Years To Ammortize 30
    Cost Per Year $3,333,333,333.33
    Cost Per Day $9,132,420.09
    Trains Per Day 228
    Trains Per Hour 12.68
    Minutes Per Departure 4.73
    Max Riders Per Train 200
    Cost Per Ticket $200.00

    Let me remind you that this does not consider fuel costs, maintenance, salaries, replacing trains, insurance, earthquake damage, and the inevitable maniac that derails the bullet train killing everyone and stopping all travel until repairs are made.

  4. I so enjoyed your topic today! I has the joy of working almost all of my career with PhD’s in Engineering primarily, then subsequently with PhD ‘s in Chemistry, Biology, and other Branches of Science. Throughout my career I was struck by the differences in thinking and the approaches to problem solving exercised by the various disciplines.
    Over time I came to realize that the Engineers were logical in their approach to problem solving, clearly associated with their education. I have come to realize how much I was influenced by them and how I have arrived at a point in may life where I do not suffer fools gladly, nor do I enjoy the convoluted thinking, and the terrible abuse of the English language which one is subjected to daily from almost every source. Nations are suffering from the lack of disciplines which were routinely taught to children and guided them throughout their lives
    My concern for the future is the banality, bred by technology, the internet, social media, and the removal of personal interaction. I would seem that so many substitute cell phones and the internet for living. How sad, and how much longer before the next dark age descends on mankind. I think it is what we deserve!

  5. I hear that the FBI is getting in on the action over the Baltimore train crash. They seem to be suggesting that an outside third party may have cause the wreck. This is a standard political tactic designed to take any blame away from anyone who is actually responsible and place it on someone over which they have no control!

  6. I am a firm believer in the general hypothesis envisioned in Atlas Shrugged those many decades go and amazed at how much has come true. I have read the book at least three times over the years and The
    Fountainhead twice. While Ms. Rand’s views on fair value and fair payment for everything is a little extreme, her views on personal integrity and the conflict between the providers and the parasites is spot on. The decline of moral values over the past several decades and especially during the Clinton and Obama administrations, however, has exceeded even Ms. Rand’s expectations. While I cannot envision a mass exodus of titans of industry, science, medicine, etc., the interdependence of us all on the industry, marketing and particularly transportation is scary. An agrarian society might survive but in ours millions would starve if the wheels stopped turning for a couple of months. Does there remain enough personal integrity and capability to keep our society viable should there be a complete breakdown in one of our essential services?

  7. I recently read Atlas Shrugged for a book club. It is a horribly written book. It is a horrible read. I can not believe you recommend it. How can I even think of buying one of your recommended investments when you make such a lousy book recommendation? It is a lousy romance. It is lousy science fiction. It is lousy plot. It is repetitive. Did I say it is repetitive, because it is repetitive. It is boring. It is lousy sexual prose. It is even lousy social commentary. It is good economic theory/criticism. But the whole thing should be condensed into 10 easy to read and digestible pages. I

  8. A really excellent analysis using “Atlas Shrugged” to make a point pertinent to our government’s leadership and the economic mess they have created.

  9. If the Democrats were in the majority in the House, they would vote to pass any Defence Bill and the Republicans would oppose it! Do they really think that we’re all that dumb? Answer: yes they actually do!! And they are, for the most part, correct in that belief. They know that we voted for them in the first place!!

  10. When this accident happened, several Democrats in DC could not wait 24 hours to use the tragedy in an attempt to further their political agenda. It was shameful. Without any proven cause……..they immediately blamed the accident on “inadequate funding”. The press SHOULD HAVE….but did not….shamed them each and every one.

  11. Brad, I am really glad that you make reference to “Atlas Shrugged” and how it applies to the current situation with sycopathic governments around the World. I first read this epic novel a few years ago, since I don’t normally read any fiction ( not deliberately at least, although much of what I read turns out to be fiction after all because it is not true! ) and I was blown away by it! I have mentioned it a couple of times in this space, as an acturate description of how things will play out under a Social-Fascist regime. I think it would benefit most poeple to read it!

  12. Brad,
    Thanks for an excellent commentary on the recent Baltimore Train Wreck. The tie to “Atlas Shrugged” in bureaucratic reality-rejecting, ill-advised behavior in recent ship and airline crashes should be front page reading (and thinking) for everyone. Add to this the dangers of terrorist attacks and the world desperately needs creative new approaches to safely and securely operating public transportation systems.

    Dave

  13. The media and the railroad community never mentioned the fact that if there were two people in the cab of the locomotive, there would have been no crash. Who in the world would put 200+ lives in the hands of one man?
    Not I………..I’ve worked on a scenic railway. We’ve always had two men in the cab of the loco.

  14. Brad,

    The willful rejection of reason and reality occurs almost everywhere everyday these days!!! Just look at all the Crony Capitalism, Crony Governing, Deceit, Deception, Corruption, False Flags, Black Ops, Unethical Behavior, Scandal, Greed, Power, Control that is taking place today. It makes the Robber Barons of 100 years ago look like child’s play. Look at all the job losses, salary cuts, benefit cuts, DEBT in every level of society. When you add it all up, the Amtrak accident should have been TOTALLY avoided with Positive Train Control (PTC) or similar technology. However, our congress has been cutting Amtrak funds for years and JUST initiated ANOTHER cut ONE DAY AFTER THE ACCIDENT. You reap what you sew!!! Oh, but our country will spend billions and billions electing politicians..what a TOTAL waste of capital. In fact, our politicians are bought and paid for as opposed to being elected by the taxpayers…Talk about a rejection of reason and reality!!!

  15. The Atlas Shrugged metaphor is uninformed for many reasons. First Ayn Rand was an atheist writing fiction. Her philosophy failed to mention that humans have spiritual dimensions, motivations and idealism, and don’t all operate from fear, egotism, or greed. Truth is stranger than fiction, in as much that the real “John Galt” was a man named Nikola Tesla who would have given the world virtually unlimited, clean energy over a century ago, but was squelched and suppressed by his banker-funder, JP Morgan, who was invested in oil and couldn’t earn repeat profits from a world-wide system that couldn’t be metered. And many comparable discoveries have been made since and routinely ignored by the investor community for the same reason. The fact is there’s an elite who would rather the world remain in want, war & slavery than improve the human condition, so take an honest look in the mirror and consider your mortality and to whom you will give an accounting when your time is up.

  16. Brad, my first ever comment. i’m an engineer and a total fan of reality. it served me well for mission control for Gemini and Apollo. i read Atlas in college when released. i remember it more than any other book. i am new this year to your column. i am thankful that you are out there. ron bayliss , Montana.

  17. I have seen this scenario many times at work with supervisors who know it all and equally by union members who think they should be protected for lazyness .
    I worry about over automation failing , and human operators not being to step in it to prevent it as well as human error and automation not able to step in !
    The infristructur of USA is both great and falling apart .
    The train might be human error or a component broke or failed . Is the train hackable ? I do not know and neither the press , Will have to wait for the experts figure it out .
    i will not even touch the beauracrats or politicians and the knowledge they lack !

  18. Brad, I have long been a fan of Ayn Rand and read the many books that she had written, and in particular lived Atlas Shrugged which starts with Who is John Galt. …

    I have long observed as a student of the Federal Reserve, which is still a private bank, and none of the shares that were issued in December 1913 when the bank was formed (pursuant to the Jeckel Island adventures of the dozen men on the train . who boarded with only first names ..

    You cannot borrow your way out of debt .. but if/when you qualify to be at the front of the line of borrowers to get the lowest rate on both short term bills, and bonds, one can do all right .. year after year .. ~Citizen Clark of Novato

  19. I think the engineer of the train is akin to the pilot of the jet that crashed it into the Alps in Europe. A nut job with a death wish.

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